BOULDER - Two days after stepping up and defeating No. 19 Oregon, Colorado took a step down on Saturday afternoon, losing to the Pac-12 Conference team in last-place team entering the final weekend of play. But the Buffaloes won't have to wait long to avenge the loss.
Oregon State upset CU 64-58 at the Coors Events Center in the final regular-season game for both teams. CU defeated OSU 72-68 last month in Corvallis, and the Buffs will get the chance to play the Beavers again next week in the Pac-12 Tournament in Las Vegas. With Washington State upsetting Southern California on Saturday, Oregon State becomes the tournament's No. 12 seed, drawing No. 5 CU on Wednesday at 3:30 p.m. MST at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.
The last time the Buffs ended the regular season with an opponent they would play five days later occurred in the 2009-10 season. CU defeated Texas Tech at the CEC, then lost to the Red Raiders in the first round of the Big 12 Conference Tournament.
CU shot only 35 percent from the field Saturday and had only one player - Spencer Dinwiddie with 18 - in double figures. The Beavers shot 43.5 percent and out-rebounded the Buffs 38-32.
The Buffaloes finished with a 20-10 overall record and a 10-8 league mark, while the Beavers closed out at 14-17 and 4-14. Colorado's 20-win season is its third straight, a school record for three consecutive years and the first time a CU coach has recorded three 20-win seasons.
But third-year Buffs coach Tad Boyle wasn't happy.
"I want to apologize to everyone in this building for our performance," Boyle said to the crowd before recognizing senior Sabatino Chen and graduating junior Shane Harris-Tunks at the post-game Senior Day ceremony. Chen scored nine points while Harris-Tunks added four.
The Buffs got off to a sloppy start, committing five turnovers in the first 10 minutes compared to the Beavers' one. At the 12:42 mark, a three by OSU's Victor Robbins followed by an Eric Moreland jumper gave the Beavers a 14-9 lead.
But Colorado, led by Chen, responded. Over the next 2.5 minutes, Chen scored on a layup, assisted a Xavier Talton layup, then grabbed a steal and turned that into a three-pointer to put the Buffs up 16-14. CU held onto the lead for the rest of the half and led 29-27 at the break.
Boyle said Chen did just what he should offensively against OSU's zone defense.
"Usually when a team plays zone, they're playing because they don't feel like they can guard you man-to-man, so you let them off the hook by taking quick jump shots and by not attacking and moving the ball," Boyle said. "Sabatino, with all the things he gives you, [is] the epitome of what we want young men to be as student athletes at the University of Colorado."
At intermission, Chen led in scoring with seven points, the first time in his career he has been the Buffs' leading scorer at half.
Out of the locker room, though, OSU found its momentum. The Beavers went on a 15-6 run to take a 42-33 lead with 15:08 remaining, and the Buffs spent the rest of the half trying to recover.
Sophomore guard Askia Booker, who ended the game with eight points and no rebounds, said that recovery attempt just didn't have enough energy.
"There was no sense of urgency whatsoever," Booker said. "Especially on the defensive end, and that's where we're going to win games."
While the Beavers built their largest lead of the game - eight at the 10:15 mark - the Buffs did put together a late comeback attempt in the final two minutes that nearly made up the difference. CU was down 56-50 with 2:10 remaining when a Dinwiddie trey closed the gap to three.
Dinwiddie was the only scorer for CU in those final minutes. While he would hit another basket with 51.2 seconds on the clock and make three of three free throws with 28.8 remaining, OSU's Roberto Nelson responded on nearly every Beaver possession.
By the final buzzer, the Buffs were down six to close out their regular season with a rare home loss to the Pac-12's lowest-ranked team. CU is 12-3 in the CEC this season and 44-7 at home in Boyle's three season. Of the three home conference games CU has dropped this season (UCLA, Arizona State, Oregon State), Saturday's was by the largest scoring margin.
Boyle made no excuses for his team's performance, saying that while he'd already talked to his players about his disappointment, he'd take the blame for the loss outside of the locker room.
"This one is on me as head coach. We weren't ready to play today, mentally, emotionally or physically," Boyle said. "You get what you deserve in life, and we got what we deserved."
The 2011-12 Buffs were in a similar position at the end of the regular season, as they dropped their final two contests against Oregon and Oregon State on the road and nearly missed out on an NCAA Tournament berth. Knowing that they would need a conference tournament championship to earn their spot, they responded and took home the Pac-12 Conference Tournament trophy.
Dinwiddie said last year's postseason story was all about the seniors.
"We just kind of banded together as brothers, we understood what we were playing for," Dinwiddie said. "We had four seniors on the roster that were never going to have this opportunity again . . . so we just wanted to give them a special time."
This year's Buffs are young. Just two players - Chen, a senior, and Shane Harris-Tunks, who is graduating in May as a redshirt junior - see this postseason as the beginning of the end.
And while Boyle won't reflect for long on last season's glory, he said his team will enter Wednesday's Pac-12 Tournament first round with a very similar mindset.
"We are going to approach the Pac-12 Tournament this year just like we did last year," Boyle said. "We have to get ready to play whoever is placed in front of us. It is not about winning four games in four days, it is about beating whoever our first round opponent is and living for another day."