BOULDER After a disappointing performance in Wednesday's win over Cal, Colorado coach Tad Boyle challenged his team to improve.
Sunday afternoon, the Buffs answered the challenge, putting forth another stellar defensive effort while also getting a career-high 17 points from sophomore forward Lucas Siewert. The result was a 64-56 win over Stanford in front of 8,323 at the Coors Events Center.
The win, Colorado's third in a row and ninth straight over the Cardinal, improved CU to 15-10 overall and also bumped the Buffs back above .500 in Pac-12 play at 7-6. Stanford dropped to 13-13 and 7-6, creating an even bigger logjam in the conference standings.
There are now eight teams within one game of each other in the second through ninth positions in the standings. The top four teams in the league earn a first-round bye in the Pac-12 tournament.
"We treated Wednesday night's win against Cal like a loss," Boyle said. "We didn't kill them physically on Thursday, but I really challenged them. I had individual meetings with certain guys and certain groups of guys. Let's just say they weren't feel-good, pat-you-on-the-back attaboy type meetings — they were more challenging in-your-face type meetings. …. The thing I love about this team is they really respond to challenges. They responded to that challenge today and played with great energy, great effort, great toughness. When we do that, I'll live with anything."
The Buffs definitely answered the challenge on defense, holding Stanford to just 35.7 percent shooting from the floor (20-for-56), the third straight game Colorado has held an opponent under 37 percent shooting.
Siewert, meanwhile, also responded, putting together his third double-digit scoring effort in his last four games. After a sub-par six-point, two-rebound performance against Cal, he not only produced his career-high in points — surpassing the 15 he scored against Stanford a year ago — he also tied his career high in rebounds with seven. Throw in 11 points and nine rebounds from senior George King, 10 points, seven assists and six rebounds from freshman McKinley Wright IV, and nine points and six rebounds from freshman Tyler Bey, and it was the kind of balanced effort the Buffs need to make a late-season run.
"We have a team that on any given night different guys can go off," Boyle said. "Obviously tonight Lucas shot the ball well. We know McKinley can score. … D'Shawn (Schwartz) has been playing well offensively. Dallas (Walton) hit a big three in the second half. Balanced scoring, swarming rebounding and team defense — this team can win some games."
Colorado held Stanford's leading scorer, Reid Travis, to just 10 points on 4-for-10 shooting, barely half his season average of 19.4 points per game. Cardinal guard Dorian Pickens did finish with 18, but he shot just 5-for-15 from the field.
Colorado led by 11 at the half, 31-20, but couldn't put the Cardinal away. Stanford chipped away at the lead, finally closing to within three on a back-to-back 3-pointers before a McKinley Wright bucket and free throw after an offensive rebound pushed the margin back to six, 48-42, with 8:35 to go.
But the Cardinal had one more surge, closing to within one two more times before CU finally regained control for good with a 12-3 run down the stretch. Siewert had eight points in the run as CU turned a 50-49 lead with just under six minutes to go into a 62-52 edge with 1:09 left on the clock.
CU held Stanford to just seven points over the final six minutes of the game.
"A lot of credit goes to our post guys, Tyler (Bey), Lucas (Siewert), Dallas (Walton), but a lot of credit also goes to our perimeter guys that were pressuring the ball and being in help-side," Boyle said. "Great team victory, great team effort."
Bey sparked the first six points of the decisive 12-3 run with two buckets, a steal and an offensive rebound to put the Buffs back up by seven, 56-49. Bey, who sat much of the first half with foul trouble, had all nine of his points and five of his six rebounds after halftime.
"Coach encouraged me to go to the boards whenever I could," Bey said. "I was able to chase down a lot of those boards to help my team. … I just wanted to come out in the second half and do what it takes to help my team win."
After Bey's burst, Siewert helped salt the win away. The 6-foot-10 sophomore hit his third 3-pointer of the game with 2:58 to go to give the Buffs a 59-52 lead, then buried another trey at the 1:09 mark to bump Colorado's cushion to 10.
"Coach challenged me to do better on the glass after the Cal game," said Siewert, who was 5-for-7 from the field, including 4-for-6 from beyond the arc. "My shots were falling today, which made things easier. I want my performance today to be the standard on how I should play going forward."
Boyle, understandably happy with Siewert's offensive output, was equally pleased with his effort on the glass and on the defensive end, where he helped keep Stanford's Travis under control.
"I'm more proud of Lucas' seven rebounds than I am his 17 points," Boyle said. "Obviously I love him shooting the ball the way he is. He gives us a shot in the arm offensively. When he defends and he rebounds like he did tonight, he really helps this team."
Colorado led for the vast majority of the first half, but never created much of a cushion until a 7-0 run late in the half put the Buffs up 22-13. McKinley Wright and Siewert both had buckets in the run before Dominique Collier drained a 3-pointer.
Following a timeout, Colorado quickly extended its lead to 31-16, with Siewert hitting a pair of threes and George King draining one for a 31-16 edge. The Cardinal, though, scored the final four points of the half to send CU into the locker room at halftime with a 31-20 lead.
Of Colorado's nine 3-pointers, Wright assisted on four of them, including Siewert's big trey with just under three minutes to play.
"When I'm driving to the lane, there's a lot of help-side (defense)," Wright said. "Having those guys (Siewert and King) who can step out and shoot is a big part for us. They do a good job of letting me know they're open. I just try to find them."
TURNING POINT: While the Buffs never trailed after taking a 5-3 lead early in the game, they didn't put it away until late. After Stanford pulled to within one with just under six minutes to play, Colorado put together a decisive 12-3 run. Siewert had eight points in the stretch and Tyler Bey four.
The Buffs are now one game above .500 in Pac-12 play and well within reach of a top-four conference finish. To get there, they need to play well on the road, beginning with a pair of games next week in Washington
CU STANDOUTS: Sophomore Lucas Siewert had a career-high 17 points and tied his career high in rebounds with seven. … Senior George King scored 11 points and grabbed nine rebounds. … Freshman McKinley Wright finished with 10 points, seven assists and six rebounds. … Freshman Tyler Bey tallied nine points — all in the second half — and six rebounds.
"If we want to continue to climb the ladder, which is something I want to do, our assistants want to do, our players want to do — we have to go compete on the road like we competed at home. We have to play with great toughness, energy and effort in Pullman on Thursday and in Seattle on Saturday like we've played in two of the last three games." said head coach Tad Boyle
NEXT UP: Colorado hits the road for a pair of games next week. The Buffs play at Washington State on Thursday (9 p.m.), then travel to Seattle for a 6 p.m. game Saturday at Washington.