After 40 thrilling minutes of back-and-forth play ridden with turnovers, the University of Colorado Buffaloes finally managed to sneak away with a tough victory over a talented UC-Santa Barbara team, 76-68.
"There are some times after games where you just have to tip your hat off to your opponent, and I thought Santa Barbara was great tonight," head coach Tad Boyle said. "We took a pretty good shot from them tonight. And I told our team that we should be thankful that their best player didn't play because with him in the game, it would have maybe been a different outcome."
Alan Williams, the junior center for the Gauchos, was sidelined in Thursday night's game after suffering from back spasms. So far this season, he is averaging 24 points per game along with 13 rebounds per game.
In Williams' absence, Taran Brown stepped up for UC Santa Barbara and scored over a third of their points with 23.
The juniors led the Buffs in scoring with guard Spencer Dinwiddie leading the pack with 24 points, five rebounds, two assists, and a steal. Guard Askia Booker was right behind him with 14 points, four rebounds, two assists, and three steals.
By the end of the night, the Buffs had accomplished a season-high 12 steals, which was countered by another season high in turnovers with 13. The Gauchos finished the night with nine steals and 17 turnovers.
The Buffs' defense wasn't the best during Thursday's match up, but they still managed to pull out a victory despite shooting worse than the Gauchos.
Throughout the entire game, the Buffs shot 44% from the field (22 for 50), 22.2% from the three-point line (4 for 18), and 77.8% from the foul line (28 for 36). The Gauchos, on the other hand, made half of their shots from the field (26 for 52), shot 39.3% from behind the arc (11 for 28), and made 62.5% of their free throws (5 for 8).
"I think we're going to make shots. I think that's the least of my worries," Dinwiddie said. "As long as they're good, open shots, I'm not worried about those. It's just when we take bad shots, those are the kind of the questionable ones."
The first half got off to a slow start, with the Buffs getting the first bucket of the game with a layup from Wesley Gordon after a minute and a half of play. The Buffs would go up by five before the Gauchos got on board with their first score of the game, thanks to a two-point jumper from Zalmico Harmon (5-2).
The Buffs held an edge over the Gauchos for the next eight minutes, going up by as much as six after Spencer Dinwiddie made a two-point shot with nine minutes remaining in the half. The Gauchos closed that gap quickly, scoring five unanswered points in the next minute and a half.
The Buffs managed to hold a slight lead for the next four minutes, until the Gauchos scored nine unanswered points to take their first lead of the game. With 3:58 on the clock, Taran Brown put them on top with a three-point shot (25-27) before making another trey thirty seconds later to give the Gauchos a five-point lead.
By the end of the half, Brown accounted for half of UC Santa Barbara's points with 15.
That's when the Buffs kicked it into gear. Before the buzzer sounded, they scored seven unanswered points of their own to regain the lead, 32-30.
Going into the second half, the Gauchos went cold. The Buffs outscored them 13 to 6 in the first eight minutes, but UC Santa Barbara wasn't about to turn over just yet.
Over the following six minutes, the Gauchos outscored the Buffs 18-7, gaining their second and final lead of the game, 52-54. But Josh Scott wasn't ready to accept defeat. Nearly 15 seconds later, he helped the Buffs regain the lead for the last time with a two-and-one play to put them back up, 55-54.
When the Gauchos snuck up on them to take the lead near the end of the second, the Buffs wouldn't let the panic take them over. "I don't think anybody panicked on our team," Booker said. We just kept running our motion, and our coach told us to play with poise and still be aggressive."
For the remainder of the game, the Buffs racked up two separate ten-point leads before the Gauchos started to fight back again. They managed to get within four points (71-67) with 35 seconds left on the clock before the Buffs sealed their victory with a pair of free throws from Dinwiddie five seconds later (73-67).
The Gauchos only managed to get one more free throw off before the final buzzer sounded, and the Buffs ran away with the victory, 76-68.
The Buffaloes return to their home floor this Sunday to take on Harvard at 2:30 in another highly anticipated match up.
"We knew Santa Barbara was going to be better than Arkansas State and Jackson State...and UT Martin," Boyle said after the game. "They are, and they proved it tonight. Harvard's going to be better than Santa Barbara, they are...The price of poker is going up, and we better be ready to ante up."