In Colorado’s first trip back to the Pac-12 Conference Tournament semifinals game since 2014, the Buffs led top-seeded Washington at halftime, 33-27, but shot just 6-of-30 in the second half, failing to make a field goal until the 12:43 mark while UW’s renowned zone defense stymied CU from doing much of anything right on offense in the most critical sequences of play down the stretch.
At the final buzzer, the score read 66-61 in favor of the Huskies.
While sophomore guard/forward Tyler Bey emerged from his slump, ending the night having led all game participants with his 22 points and 16 rebounds, Colorado lacked impactful performances from junior guard Shane Gatling, who scored just six points, and sophomore guard McKinley Wright IV, who put up seven.
The latter was 0-for-9 from the floor until he sank a three-pointer with 17 seconds left in the game, his only made basket of the night away from the free throw line.
Washington began the second half on a 25-5 run and and with just under nine minutes to play, led the Buffs, 52-38.
Colorado certainly fought to keep things close and were aided by the Huskies, who collectively could not seem to bury free throws late in the game which would have provided the final nails in CU’s coffin. Ultimately, despite coming to within four points of Washington with 1:01 left in the game, and three with just 17 seconds left, the Buffs failed to make the necessary shots needed to successfully mount a comeback.
“Us losing, I still feel like we could have done better as a team,” Bey said. “…I’m not really proud of myself because I didn’t play as good as I wanted to this whole tournament, but I wanted to win today and [this] was the biggest game. I just wanted to win.”
CU made 48 percent of its field goals in the first half only to go completely cold in the second, as confirmed by the team’s 20 percent conversion rate during that time. The long ball was all but nonexistent for Colorado in the second half, as the Buffs made just 2-of-16 attempts.
Ultimately, bad games from Wright IV and Gatling, who fouled out with 38 seconds left in the game, a miserable second half and the dominating Washington zone defense proved to be the perfect storm of insurmountable obstacles that denied the Buffaloes a victory.
On Feb. 23 in Seattle, when the two teams last met, Colorado established a then-season-high 19 turnovers. Tonight versus the Huskies, the Buffs committed 18, which UW turned into 24 points.
“…When you shoot 6-for-30 in the second half…and you turn the ball over as much as we did — you put those two things together [and] it’s a lot to overcome, especially against a team like Washington,” head coach Tad Boyle said after the loss.
The beginning of the game looked more than promising for Colorado, as the Buffs hit the Huskies hard early on en route to an 8-0 lead, with sophomore guard/forward D’Shawn Schwartz scoring five of those points and Bey contributing the rest.
A layup from freshman guard Daylen Kountz put the Buffs up 10-3 at the 15:23 mark. From there, Washington began to wake up and about three minutes later, the Huskies had lessened their deficit and trailed 14-10 with 12:32 to go before the half.
A scoring drought of three minutes and 29 seconds allowed the Huskies to take their first lead of the game, but Gatling tied things at 21, nailing a three-pointer with 7:09 left in the first half.
With a little over four minutes remaining, the Buffs had established a more comfortable lead of 28-21 after a basket by Bey, and a three-pointer from junior forward Lucas Siewert with 10 seconds on the clock proved to the the final basket of the half, as CU took a six-point lead into the final 20 minutes of play.
Washington got to work quick in the second half, as back-to-back threes from David Crisp and Matisse Thybulle tied the game at 33 less than three minutes into things.
Crisp scored 10 points for UW on 3-of-12 shooting while Thybulle added 12.
For a close to 10-minute period, the Buffaloes managed just five points and one made shot from the floor, finding themselves down 52-38 with just under nine minutes to play.
Colorado battled to get within 10 points of UW over the ensuing minutes, and the Huskies’ nine missed free throws in the second half aided them in that quest.
Down 60-50 with 2:25 to play, the Buffaloes scored six straight points, four of which were free throws made by Bey, to make it a 60-56 affair with just over a minute left.
Boyle and the Buffaloes turned to the foul-palooza technique in the final minute of play in an attempt to get within one basket of the Huskies, and Wright IV’s three-pointer with 17 seconds left did just that, but it wasn’t enough and time was not on Colorado’s side.
Crisp cherry picked under CU’s net after Wright IV’s basket and was on the receiving end of a Hail Mary heave from the inbounding Jaylen Nowell, making a layup with 13 seconds to go and cementing the Huskies’ impending victory.
“Colorado gave us a great fight,” said Washington head coach Mike Hopkins. “They’ve got a lot of heart, they’ve got a great coach, and they just kept coming at you and coming at you and coming at you…[We’ve] got to tip our hats to them. These guys were resilient enough to come out with a win.”
Washington will take on the winner of the Oregon versus Arizona State semifinal game in Saturday’s Pac-12 Conference Tournament championship game.
The Buffs will return to Boulder and await Selection Sunday, where they’ll hope to make the National Invitational Tournament.
“Yes [we deserve to play in the NIT,] especially if you look at what this team has done since January 31st,” Boyle said. “In the month of February and certainly in the month of March we have grown by leaps and bounds…we a top hundred team in the country, absolutely. No doubt in my mind.”
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