In a basketball game that only passingly resembled one for large portions of the afternoon, the Buffaloes locked down Cal defensively and got enough offensively from two of their senior stars to emerge with a hard-fought win.
“This was kind of the old-school grind of Colorado basketball,” said Boyle. “Nate Tomlinson was here and after the game he said ‘That’s an old-school grind, that’s how we used to do it’. You put the offensive performance on Thursday with the defensive performance today and you got the recipe for beating anybody.”
There were so few made baskets from the field on Saturday that it wouldn’t substantially increase the length of this recap to go through and recount each one.
When two teams combine for just 31 field goals it outsizes the importance of each one, and few were bigger than Derrick White’s fade-away three that put the game away with 20 seconds left.
After being herded right and trapped for a number of possessions, White managed to keep his dribble, pick his head up and notice the shot clock before falling back and drilling a signature shot.
“The most important thing was to get that win, you never want to lose on senior night and have that bad taste in your mouth,” said White.
It was a special moment for a unique player, one who Colorado fans won’t forget anytime soon.
“We would not be as good as we are without him. He is a special player,” said Boyle. “We knew how good he was and it took a little while to get him ramped up and adjusted. I just know that he’s a special, special player and one that I’d like to keep coaching for as long as I can.”
Following a choppy start, the Buffaloes found themselves outrebounded by 9 at halftime and trailing by 5. Colorado employed that grind-it-out mentality that was often missing earlier this winter to rally in the second frame, outrebounding Cal by 6 while holding the Bears to 24% shooting from the field.
“I thought Xavier Johnson’s defense on Ivan Rabb, certainly in the second half down the stretch was huge, he took on a big challenge,” said Boyle. “We overcame some things that didn’t go well offensively because we guarded and rebounded. We rebounded like we want to in the second half and that produces wins.”
Johnson delivered on both ends of the floor on his senior day, finishing with 19 points and 6 rebounds. Most importantly, with the game tied and just over 9 minutes remaining Johnson embarked on a 7-point run that gave Colorado a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
If stars were being awarded Dom Collier would unquestionably claim the third. Collier was at his most effective, avoiding foul trouble and playing active defense. He finished with 10 points on 4-6 shooting, 3 steals, and a block in 24 crucial minutes.
His biggest moment came with the Buffs clinging to a one-point lead with just over three minutes remaining. Faced with a quickly dwindling shot clock, Collier stepped back and drilled a deep three to give the Buffs a four-point cushion. It would prove more than Cal could overcome.
“It’s just always being ready on the three point line because the clock was running down and I want to take and make big shots,” said Collier. “We just wanted to get a dub for our seniors, because that’s what it’s all about.”
Among the highlights of the day was George King’s ferocious put-back slam that tied the game with 13 minutes left that finally woke up the Coors Events Center crowd. It helped fuel CU’s rebounding resurgence and led to a Collier three which gave the Buffs their first lead since the 12:04 mark of the first half.
“It was just more of an effort and not letting Cal boxing me out affect me,” said King. “It was just going and doing what I do which is be athletic and try to get rebounds.”
Added Boyle, “The tip dunk he had, that brought the crowd into the game obviously and kind of got us going, that was a big time play. George has the ability to make those kinds of plays.”
Colorado wraps up its regular season with a record of 18-13 having won 8 of 11 after their dismal 0-7 start to Pac-12 play. This year certainly didn't unfold the way anyone around the program thought it would.
Here now on March 4th it has to be considered a success that this group has rallied from the worst-case scenario and found a way to turn in a respectable second half of the campaign.
“That says something about this team’s resiliency. You’ve got to win some close, grind-it-out games,” said Boyle. “This group’s four possessions away from being 12-6 but we’re not. You’re never as good as you think you are when you look at your record and you’re never as bad as you think you are when you look at your record.”
The Buffaloes’ form since the calendar turned to February suggests they may have an upset bid in them next week in the desert. It’ll take the kind of defensive tenacity on display tonight and the offensive flow that buried Stanford on Thursday to extend their season beyond two more games.
“You’ve got to find ways. That’s why defense and rebounding are so important,” said Boyle. “Winning in February is hard, winning in March is really, really hard. If we put it all together on defense and offense, we can beat anybody in this league. We also know that if we don’t, we could be one and done and headed home.”