Buffs' Rally Falls Short Against No. 9 Bruins
BOULDER — Colorado's furious second-half rally came up just short Saturday and the Buffaloes dropped a 71-65 decision to No. 9 UCLA at the CU Events center.
Tad Boyle's Buffs dropped to 12-6 overall and 4-4 in Pac-12 play while the Bruins improved to 13-2, 5-1.
The Buffs trailed by 15 at intermission and by 17 early in the second half, but slowly chipped away at the lead and cut the deficit to just one, 62-61, with 1:54 to play. But they could never completely get over the hump, as the Bruins hit a crucial 3-pointer and six free throws in the final 1:30 to slip away with the win.
Jabari Walker led CU with 19 points and seven rebounds. Evan Battey added 15 points and K.J. Simpson and Tristan da Silva each scored 10.
Johnny Juzang led UCLA with 23 points.
The Buffs were their own worst enemy in the first half, committing 14 of their 21 total turnovers before intermission, which the Bruins converted into 18 points. But after allowing UCLA to shoot 50 percent from the floor in the first half, Colorado limited the Bruins to 37 percent shooting after halftime to help fuel the comeback.
CU shot 50 percent for the game (22-for-44), including 15-for-27 in the second half. The Buffs also won the rebound battle, 33-26, one game after getting pummeled on the boards in a loss to USC.
But despite the comeback, they couldn't get completely over the hump and fell to 0-5 against ranked teams this season.
"A disappointing loss," Boyle said. "We shot ourselves in the foot for the second game in a row with turnovers (CU had 16 against USC). But our guys battled back. This team has fight, it has heart, it has grit. I have a lot different feeling in my gut tonight than I did Thursday."
HOW IT HAPPENED: Colorado trailed by 15 at the half, 43-28, after the Bruins outscored the Buffs 22-8 over the last eight minutes of the first half, and by 17 early in the second half.
But CU slowly chiseled away at the lead when the Bruins hit just four of their first 15 shots of the second half.
The Buffs finally shaved the deficit to single digits with 11 minutes to play when a 6-0 surge pulled them within 49-41, with Simpson scoring four and Battey adding a short jumper off a Julian Hammond III assist.
Simpson had one of his best games as a Buff, adding seven rebounds and five assists — and just one turnover — to his 10 points, along with playing some solid defense in 25 minutes on the floor.
"When we came out in the second half, I just felt like we needed more energy, so when I got in the game I just tried to push it and get guys active, and get everybody on the bench up," Simpson said. "When we play together as a team like that, you see what happens.
The Bruins finally answered to push the lead back to 10, but a Lawson Lovering bucket inside cut the deficit back to eight and UCLA called timeout.
But after a Bruins bucket out of the break, Colorado answered with two straight buckets from da Silva, both off offensive rebounds. That brought another UCLA timeout with 8:09 to play and the Buffs trailing by just six, 53-47, as they limited UCLA to just 10 points in the first 13 minutes of the half.
Colorado then narrowed the gap to three, 55-52, on a Battey 3-pointer with five minutes to play, then pulled back within three again a minute later on a Walker three-point play.
UCLA momentarily pushed the lead back to five before the Buffs got back-to-back buckets from Battey and Walker, whose thunderous dunk off a pass from da Silva cut the deficit to 62-61 with 1:54 to play.
But that was as close as Colorado could get. The Bruins answered with a 3-pointer from Tyger Campbell — his first field goal of the game — to go back up by four, 65-61, with 1:30 to play.
"There are times in athletics when you have to tip your cap to your opponent," Boyle said. "This is one of those times. They made big plays when they had to have them."
Colorado came back with two free throws from Battey on its next possession to pull within 65-63, then forced a UCLA miss and the Buffs called timeout with 36 seconds remaining.
But the Buffs couldn't convert on the possession, missing a layup, and they were forced to foul. Juzang hit two free throws with 16 seconds left to rebuild the Bruins' cushion to four, 67-63, and the Bruins hit four more free throws in the final seconds to ice the win.
"We went toe-to-toe with a team that went to the Final Four last year," Boyle said. "That should give us some confidence that we can play at that level. But we have to play at that level consistently and that's what these guys have to figure out."
Colorado survived a slow start and cut an early 10-point UCLA lead down to one, 21-20, with eight minutes to go in the half on a da Silva 3-pointer. Walker had seven of his 10 first-half points in the comeback and Colorado's defense forced six straight empty UCLA possessions to pull the Buffs back into the game.
But the Bruins quickly regained control, as CU endured a crushing plague of turnovers, including five in a six-possession stretch that helped the Bruins to a 9-1 run. UCLA outscored Colorado 22-8 over the last eight minutes of the half to take a 43-28 lead into intermission.
Colorado finished the half with 14 turnovers, which the Bruins converted into 18 points, UCLA also shot 50 percent from the floor (15-for-30).
The Buffs also played again without the services of senior guard Elijah Parquet, who was out with an injury.
TURNING POINT: The Buffs had momentum on their side after cutting the UCLA lead to one late in the game. But Campbell's 3-pointer galvanized the Bruins and they held on to keep the Buffs at bay over the final 1:30.
WHAT IT MEANS: The Buffs are now 0-5 against ranked teams this year, but won't have much time to wallow in their sorrows. They leave Sunday for a weeklong road trip that will see them play three conference games in a six-day stretch.
KEY STATISTICS: CU finished with a season-high 21 turnovers, which the Bruins converted into 20 points … The Buffs shot 50 percent from the floor, including 15-for-27 in the second half to pave the way for their comeback … CU finished with 16 assists on 22 baskets.
QUOTEWORTHY: "Tonight in the second half, I felt like we got better,? against a really good UCLA team. We got better. We have to build on that and we can't take one step forward and two steps back when we go to Oregon. Losses will keep coming. We have to keep getting better. You can get better when you're losing games. I believe that you don't want to admit it, but you can. And eventually, if you keep getting better, you're not going to keep losing games. It's gonna flip and that's what our young guys have to understand. The future's bright for Colorado basketball, but we havet to start winning games now and it starts with an opportunity in Eugene on Tuesday night." — CU head coach Tad Boyle
NEXT UP: There's no rest ahead for the Buffs, as they head out next week on a rare three-game conference road trip that will see them play three times in six days. The trip begins with an 8 p.m. game at Oregon on Tuesday (Pac-12 Networks), a contest that has been rescheduled twice. CU then heads to Seattle for a 9 p.m. Thursday game at Washington before wrapping up the trip with an 8 p.m. game Sunday at Washington State.