The University of Colorado men’s basketball team welcomed the UCLA Bruins to CU Events Center on Thursday night in a game with huge Pac-12 Tournament seeding implications on the line.
Entering the game, the Bruins (9-8 Pac-12) led the Buffs (9-8 Pac-12) in the conference standings by one win. A victory over UCLA would mean CU’s hopes of finishing in the conference’s top four and receiving its first Pac-12 Tournament first-round bye in program history would remain alive. A loss would’ve scrapped all hope for the Buffaloes.
Statistically speaking, the matchup did not favor Colorado at all. Though the Buffs did manage to beat the Bruins in Los Angeles back on Feb. 6, on paper this rematch should’ve gone a different way for a UCLA team that is among the best in the Pac-12 in a number of key stats.
The matchup went the way of the Buffaloes, however, as Colorado cruised past UCLA, 93-68. The 25-point difference is the Buffs’ largest margin of victory over the Bruins since CU beat UCLA 82-60 on Dec. 7, 1962.
Let’s crunch the numbers of the improbable blowout victory.
The Bruins are the highest scoring team in the conference, averaging 78.3 points per game. The fact that the Buffs held the highly-offensive UCLA to just 68 points is telling in and of itself. On the other hand, Colorado ranks right in the middle of the Pac-12 with a 74.9 points-per-game average, good for sixth-best in the conference.
CU’s 93-point performance against the Bruins is the most the team has put up against a Pac-12 opponent all season.
“I couldn’t be more proud of our guys,” head coach Tad Boyle said. “We beat a UCLA team that has been playing well. They’ve won four out of five coming in here … That’s a better team than we saw in L.A. about a month ago. But we guarded, held them to 35 percent [and] we rebounded, which was a big key of the game for us was going into it. I thought our defense was great for the most part. It was a great win for Colorado.”
Another key to the Buffaloes victory, as Boyle mentioned, was the team’s rebounding. Colorado has been one of the best rebounding teams in the Pac-12 all season long, but believe it or not, UCLA is actually the best rebounding team in the conference, reeling in an average of 41.2 rebounds per game to CU’s third-ranked 37.2 per game average.
You wouldn’t be able to tell, though, if you looked at the stat sheet on Thursday.
The Bruins boast the second-tallest team in the nation, which is perhaps why they’re the conference’s best rebounding team. The Buffaloes, however, proved to be bigger on the boards, out-rebounding UCLA by a 47-35 margin.
The 47 boards by the Buffs are their most against a Pac-12 team this season.
“Our interior defense was really good,” Boyle said. “D’Shawn Schwartz did a pretty darn good job on Kris Wilkes all night, McKinley [Wright IV] did a terrific job on Jalen Hands. I think we had some really good individual performances, but our team defense was really good.”
Entering the game, the Bruins were among the conference’s top shooting teams. At the start of the contest, UCLA ranked third in the Pac-12 with a 46.2 percent field-goal make rate, while the Buffs boasted the conference’s sixth-best shooting percentage at 46 percent. By the end of the game, the two teams traded positions in the Pac-12.
The Buffaloes shot a solid 49.3 percent from the floor while UCLA only made 35.9 percent of their shots from field goal range. By the end of the game, the former improved their season’s average to 46.1 percent, now good for the third-best in the Pac-12, while the latter dropped to a sixth-ranked 45.8 percent.
Junior guard Shane Gatling followed up his career-best 28-point performance against the Bruins back in February by dropping 26 against UCLA on Thursday.
He was also 10-for-10 from the free throw line, which is the best single-game charity stripe performance from a Buff since Derrick White shot 12-of-12 against Arizona State on Jan. 5, 2017.
“I don’t know what it is, but my teammates just kept finding me,” Gatling said. “I wasn’t shooting well from three tonight, but I tried to make plays for others, and do other things that would impact the game.”
While he struggled from three-point range, shooting 2-of-8 from beyond the arc, Gatling more than made up for it in the paint.
“The one thing about him when we recruited him was that he’s got the ability to do more than be just a three-point shooter,” Boyle said. “He’s a good shooter and people know that, so they’re going to run him off the line and make him put it on the floor.”
In addition to Gatling’s great night, sophomore guard/forward Tyler Bey continued to do “Tyler Bey” things on Thursday, too. His 27 points against the Bruins tied his season high and his 13 rebounds provided his fourth-straight double-double and his seventh in nine games. It was his 13th double-double of the season, tying USC’s Nick Rakocevic for the Pac-12 lead.
“I feel really good going into every game,” Bey said. “My teammates are always finding me with the ball, and I appreciate them for that. I’ve been watching film after every game just to learn about myself, and fix my mistakes.”
His teammates know that when Bey is hot, the Buffs are almost unstoppable.
“That’s huge for us, especially with a player like Tyler who can score at will,” sophomore guard McKinley Wright IV said. “When we get him touches good things happen.”
Good things are happening for the Buffaloes. With just one game remaining on the schedule, Colorado is in a good position to finish in the Pac-12’s top four teams. USC still stands in the way of the Buffs, however. CU must win against the Trojans on Saturday or there’s no chance.
“We’re trying to get a top-four seed in order to make a run in Vegas, and that bye is very important,” Gatling said. “I think that’s what the other teams are playing for as well. We’ve just got to take it one game at a time and take care of business.”
Colorado is a confident team right now and that’s dangerous if you’re USC. The Buffs are prepared and ready to finish the season strong.
“We’re ready to go,” Wright said. “We’re looking forward to it, because it’s a huge game for us … We’re just ready to play.”
The Buffs tip off against the Trojans on Saturday at 3 p.m.
Contact CU Independent Sports Editor Scott MacDonald at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @ScottTopics.