The University of Colorado Buffaloes put a defibrillator to their NCAA Tournament hopes Wednesday night by escaping Stanford University with a 59-56 victory.
The Buffs needed the win like they possibly haven’t needed one all year. Their tournament prospects were fading quickly after back-to-back demoralizing blowout losses to Arizona and Utah. Colorado was competitive in the first half of both of those games before collapsing after halftime on both ends of the court.
But things went CU’s way against Stanford. Sophomore forward Josh Scott continued to assert himself as Colorado’s best player. He scored 17 points and grabbed 11 rebounds for his 11th double-double of the year. Fellow sophomore Xavier Johnson added 14 points for the Buffs.
Stanford junior guard Chasson Randle lead all scorers with 24 and poured in all four of the Cardinal’s threes.
The first 10 minutes of the first half were tight, and fouls and turnovers abounded. Neither team reached double figures until almost nine minutes had elapsed, when Scott made a layup to give the Buffs a 10-9 lead, with 11:41 left in the half.
Sparking Colorado’s offense, freshman guard Jaron Hopkins made a three. Johnson hit a jumper, and senior center Ben Mills even got in on the fun, lofting a short hook shot from the right baseline for his only points of the game.
That was one of several opportunities the Buffs had to run away with the game. After sophomore guard Eli Stalzer stroked a wide-open corner three, sandwiched between made free throws by Scott and Johnson, Colorado had a 29-21 lead with 3:03 left in the half. But as would happen later in the game, poor defensive rebounding and loose ball security catalyzed a Stanford run. The Buffs managed to take a 33-28 into the break.
To begin the second half, Scott scored eight straight points to help the Buffs extend their lead to 46-38 with 14:13 left in the game. Here, Colorado had yet another chance to put the game away, with three of Stanford’s starters being in foul trouble. Then, freshman forward Dustin Thomas missed two free throws, and Hopkins air-balled a trey. The Buffs all of a sudden simply couldn’t find the bottom of the net.
Randle expedited the Buffs’ now-routine second-half collapse by scoring seven straight points to bring Stanford within a point. Senior forward Josh Huestis tied it with a free throw. When Johnson hit a pull-up jumper to give Colorado the lead back, it had been more than eight minutes since the Buffs’ last field goal.
Then, the Buffs turned the game in one sequence. Huestis drove down the middle and launched a high floater. But freshman forward Wesley Gordon skyed to block it at its apex, swatting the shot into the frontcourt, where junior guard Askia Booker corralled it and made a transition layup to give Colorado a 52-51 lead with 2:58 left.
Booker made the biggest basket of the game for the Buffs, despite relatively dismal shooting overall. He scored only seven points, making three of ten shots, and traveled four times.
In the end, it didn’t matter. Randle missed a game-tying three at the buzzer, and Colorado escaped with a victory that might have saved the team’s tournament chances. A win against the University of California Golden Bears Saturday would solidify the Buffs position as an at-large bid.
But tonight, at least, the Buffs can dream of dancing. Tipoff in Berkeley is set for 4:30 p.m. MST, Saturday.
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Tommy Wood at Thomas.firstname.lastname@example.org.