Colorado and Cal came into their first round matchup riding three game win streaks as arguably the hottest teams in the Pac-12. But both teams had an afternoon to forget at the T-Mobile Arena. As the case is with every game, there has to be a winner and a loser, and Colorado played just well enough to squeak by with a victory.
The Buffs began on a sloppy note, committing three early turnovers, which Cal turned into six points. Behind the effort of McKinley Wright and unlikely hero Daylen Kuontz off the bench, they were able to quickly rebound from the slow start.
A critical juncture in the game came when the Buffs went on a 13-2 run in 7:51 to get out to a 23-14 lead. Kountz and Wright combined for 17 of Colorado’s 28 points at the break on a perfect 6-for-6 shooting from the field. Wright would finish the afternoon with a game high 18 points.
The Buffs pulled away for good midway through the second half going on a 8-0 run to extend the lead to 45-35 with ten minutes left. Cal was playing catch-up the rest of the way and was able to cut the deficit to two after a disastrous final stretch by the turnover-plagued Buffaloes. Cal had a chance to tie the game in their final possession, but Matt Bradley's three fell shy. Colorado held on for a 56-51 victory after Tyler Bey made a pair of free throws to put the game on ice.
Colorado out rebounded Cal 40-19, including 10 offensive boards. Despite outshooting Cal as well, it was far from pretty for CU. They turned the ball over an atrocious 23 times. If Colorado had lost, it would have been easy to point at those season-high turnovers as the main reason.
“We could open a bakery we have so many turnovers,” Tad Boyle said half jokingly at the half.
Colorado will need to protect the basketball better if they want a chance at making a deep run in the tournament. No matter how ugly, a win is a win and the Buffs live to see another day with a chance to put this clunker behind them.
They’ll take on the fourth seed Oregon State Beavers (18-12, 10-8) in the quarterfinals tomorrow at 2:30. OSU won the lone regular season matchup between the two, 76-74.