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What started off as a dominating University of Colorado stampede ended in a tight 59-56 second-round victory over the University of California Golden Bears at the Pac-12 Tournament in Las Vegas. The Buffaloes (23-10) will now move on to face No. 1 Arizona (29-3) in the semifinal round Friday night. The winner will then advance to the championship Saturday.
Although the score was close, it was a testament to Colorado’s ability to dig deep and pull out a firm win. The difference between Wednesday’s first-round game against USC and Thursday’s performance was all teamwork and, according to head coach Tad Boyle, free throws.
“Well, it’s been tough, yesterday’s game and today’s game,” Boyle said. “We haven’t gotten to the free-throw line like we normally do. It’s a different game out there; so when you get there, you have to make the most of it.”
Playing as a team meant the weight of scoring did not rest solely on the usual suspects, including junior guard Askia Booker. Booker fought his way to 21 points Wednesday against USC and added 17 against Cal. The Buffs took control from opening tip-off, with Cal taking the lead only once throughout the entire game.
Sophomore guard Xavier Talton fronted 13 points, adding a second prong to Colorado’s backcourt attack strategy. Sophomore forwards Josh Scott and Xavier Johnson recorded huge defensive games with Scott contributing 11 points and six rebounds and Johnson adding ten and eight, respectively.
“Those are the winning plays that you need to have down the stretch to get your team extra possessions.” Booker said about the rebound advantage.
California’s Justin Cobbs, a usual offensive powerhouse, was quiet in the first half but accounted for 16 out of 21 points in the second.
“We wanted to corral Cobbs a little better than we did, and he scored quicker than we wanted him to score. We wanted to slow him up and keep him in front of us,” Boyle said.
A Cobbs dunk with 6:30 minutes to go brought the Bears within one point of the Buffaloes. For the next four minutes, a back-and-fourth scramble ensued. Colorado’s head remained above water, and the Buffs led 58-54 with 12.1 seconds left. At that point, Booker headed to the free-throw line.
He made both, and sophomore guard Eli Stalzer hit one of two free throws once Cobbs fired back with a layup. Luckily for Colorado, Cobbs’ potential game-tying three-point shot was off-target.
“It really comes down to us not having to get to that point and not having them get the last shot.” sophomore guard Xavier Talton said about the second close call of the week.
Last time Colorado met Arizona, on Feb. 22 the Buffaloes were blown out during the anticipated ESPN College GameDay broadcast.
“I’m going to take on that challenge and try to compete as much as I can,” Askia Booker said. “But it’s not just about me and my rivalry. It’s about the team.”
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Gavin B. Griffin at firstname.lastname@example.org.