Buffs Open Pac-12 Tourney Against Cal
LAS VEGAS — Here's one guarantee concerning the Colorado Buffaloes' Pac-12 tournament opener Thursday night at T-Mobile Arena:
Colorado won't be overconfident.
When the No. 23 and third-seeded Buffs (20-7) square off against 11th-seeded Cal (9-19) at 9:30 p.m. (MT), they will no doubt remember the 71-62 loss they suffered on the Bears' home floor in mid-February. The loss proved to be one of the bigger upsets of the Pac-12 season — Cal finished with a 3-17 conference mark — and came on the front end of Colorado's only two-game losing streak of the year.
Since that two-game skid, the Buffs have won four in a row to earn their highest conference tournament seed in the Pac-12 era. The Bears, meanwhile, closed their regular season with four straight losses — before knocking off sixth-seeded Stanford on Wednesday, 76-58, to earn a spot in the quarterfinals.
It's the kind of matchup that can give the Buffaloes fits.
The two teams split their season series, with Colorado easily winning the first game in Boulder, 89-60, behind a 23-point, 11-rebound effort from freshman Jabari Walker.
But the Bears were without star Matt Bradley in the first game. With Bradley in the lineup for round two, Cal controlled the game for much of the second half as Bradley finished with 29 points and eight rebounds to lead the Bears to the win.
"Cal's a team that we overlooked and they beat us at their place," Colorado senior point guard McKinley Wright said earlier this week. "I think we have that mindset now that we can't overlook anybody."
They certainly won't overlook Bradley. The 6-foot-4, 220-pound guard had 19 points, six rebounds and six assists in Cal's win over Stanford on Wednesday — but he wasn't the only Bear doing some damage. Cal also got 13 points from guard Ryan Betley, and a 12-point, nine-rebound night from big man Andre Kelly.
The Buffs have historically played well in the Pac-12 tournament under Tad Boyle, holding a 13-8 record in the event. That includes a 7-1 mark as the higher seeded team and an 8-1 mark in tourney openers (the only blemish came last year when No. 6 Colorado lost to No. 11 Washington State in the opener, which proved to be CU's last game of the year because of the Covid-19 pandemic).
Colorado also won the first-ever Pac-12 tournament, winning four straight games in 2012 to claim the title.
But Boyle stressed this week that his team won't be looking ahead to a title when they take the floor against the Bears.
"We're going to Las Vegas to win a game Thursday night," Boyle said earlier this week. "That's all that's on our mind. We're going to try to live to see another day. Then we'll figure out what comes on Friday. But we have to take care of Thursday first."
If the Buffs do beat the Bears, they will play the winner of Thursday's USC-Utah game on Friday, also at 9:30 p.m. Colorado swept the second-seeded Trojans this year and split with Utah.
BROADCAST: The game will be televised by ESPN with Dave Pasch and Bill Walton. KOA 850 AM and 94.1 FM will broadcast the game with Voice of the Buffs Mark Johnson and Scott Wilke.