Buffs Come Up Short Vs. Arizona In Pac-12 Semifinals
LAS VEGAS — Colorado's bid for a Pac-12 tournament title game berth came up short Friday, as the fourth-seeded Buffaloes fell 82-72 to top seed Arizona in the tourney semifinals at T-Mobile Arena.
The loss dropped Tad Boyle's Buffs to 21-11, and the Buffs will now await the NCAA and NIT bracket announcements on Sunday to see if their season continues.
Arizona improved to 30-3 and is expected to be among the top-level seeds when the NCAA bracket is announced.
The Buffs trailed by 11 early in the second half, but used a 12-2 run to pull within one, 51-50, less than four minutes in and stayed within striking range for much of the rest of the half. But foul trouble plagued the Buffs over the final 10 minutes and Arizona slowly pulled away to take control down the stretch.
Jabari Walker led the Buffs with 19 points, including five 3-pointers, as CU finished with 16 treys, a program-best in Pac-12 tourney play and tied for the third-most in CU history. Keeshawn Barthelemy scored 12 points for CU and Evan Battey added 10.
Arizona was led by Azuolas Tubelis' 20 points, as the Wildcats posted a 30-14 edge on points in the paint.
The Buffs finished the game shooting just 39 percent (24-for-62), but hit 16 of their 32 3-point tries — meaning they were 8-for-30 on two-point attempts. Arizona shot 52 percent (26-for-50) and also had a 36-27 edge on the boards, along with a 30-14 advantage in the paint. CU also shot just 10 free throws — the third-fewest attempts of the season — and made eight.
"Arizona was terrific tonight," Boyle said. "They played like a No. 1 seed and a top-five team in the country. I'm really proud of our guys for the way we fought and competed … What this team has done in terms of grown from November and December — I couldn't be more proud of a group of young men."
HOW IT HAPPENED: Colorado trailed by nine at intermission and Arizona pushed its lead to 11 in the opening seconds of the second half.
But the Buffs regained their composure to put together a 12-2 run, getting two 3-pointers from Battey and one each from Nique Clifford and Julian Hammond III. That cut Arizona's lead to just one, 51-50, less than four minutes into the half.
Colorado then stayed within striking range over the next six minutes, with a Barthelemy 3-pointer pulling CU to within one again, 58-57, with 11:19 to play.
"One thing you can say about our guys, they're not afraid," Boyle said. "Our guys came tonight ready to compete and they had their hardhats on."
But foul woes took their toll on the Buffs at the same time. Battey went to the bench with his fourth at the 11:41 mark and Walker drew his fourth barely a minute later, leaving the Buffs without their big men against Arizona's towering lineup.
With Battey and Walker on the bench, the Wildcats began pounding it inside. Wildcats 7-footer Oumar Ballo scored six unanswered points to push UA's cushion back to seven, 64-57, with 8:40 left to play before the Buffs got another Barthelemy 3-pointer to stop the surge.
Battey and Walker returned to the game at the 6:38 mark with the Buffs trailing by seven. Battey cut CU's deficit to six with a bucket inside, but the Wildcats built the cushion back to 11 with five unanswered points for a 76-65 lead with just more than two minutes remaining and the Buffs couldn't close the gap down the stretch.
"We got outscored by 16 points at the foul line,and we lose by 10," Boyle said. "So if we can figure out a way to get there more or finish better once we're at the rim, you have a chance to beat these guys. But when they shoot 25 free throws, 24 for 25, and they shoot 52 percent, you gotta look at your defense and the way you're playing."
Colorado fell to 16-10 all-time in the Pac-12 tournament, with six of the 10 losses coming to the top two seeds.
The Buffs started the game on fire, hitting their first five shots en route to taking a 16-8 lead less than five minutes in. CU hit four 3-pointers in the stretch — two from Walker — and looked ready to take control.
But the Wildcats battled back, putting together an 11-3 run to regain the lead midway through the half. Colorado briefly went back ahead one more time before Arizona put together a 16-3 run to take a seven-point lead, 31-24, with just under eight minutes to play in the half. The Buffs provided Arizona with four turnovers in the stretch to fuel the surge.
Colorado had a chance to close the gap to four in the final seconds of the half but a turnover led to a Tubelis layup and three-point play just before the buzzer to give the Wildcats a 47-38 lead at intermission.
TURNING POINT: The Buffs were within one, 58-57, with just over 11 minutes remaining, but with Battey on the bench with his fourth foul — and Walker soon to join him with his fourth — Colorado had no answer inside for Arizona. The Wildcats put together a quick 6-0 run and CU never came closer than four again.
WHAT IT MEANS: According to most bracket experts, the Buffs needed a win to even insert themselves into the NCAA conversation. Now, they will await Sunday's announcements and should be at least in line for an NIT berth.
KEY STATISTICS: The Buffs finished the game shooting just 39 percent (24-for-62) … CU hit 16 of its 32 3-point tries, meaning Colorado was 8-for-30 on two-point attempts … Arizona shot 52 percent (26-for-50) and also had a 36-27 edge on the boards, along with a 30-14 advantage in the paint … CU also shot just 10 free throws, the third-fewest attempts of the season.
QUOTEWORTHY: "Our season is not over, I don't believe. Probably not going to be in the NCAA Tournament, but hopefully we'll get a chance to play in the NIT, and we'll relish that. And that's not guaranteed either, but we'll hopefully have that opportunity, and we're gonna make the most of it and finish this thing strong. Because this group is a special group, and I want to coach them as long as I can." — CU head coach Tad Boyle
NEXT UP: The Buffs will now await the postseason tournament bid process, set for Sunday.