Buffs Topple Oregon State To Advance To Pac-12 Semifinals
Defense, rebounding and some clutch offensive plays down the stretch from some unlikely sources lifted the Colorado Buffaloes to another win Thursday in the Pac-12 tournament.
The Buffs carved out a 21-point first half lead, then withstood a furious Oregon State rally in the second half to collect a 73-58 win over the Beavers and advance to the tournament semifinals at T-Mobile Arena.
Now 21-11, the fifth-seeded Buffs next face regular season champ and top-seed Washington in Friday's 7 p.m. semifinal matchup. It will be Colorado's fourth trip to a conference tourney semifinal under head coach Tad Boyle (three Pac-12, one Big 12), but the first since 2014.
The Buffs put five players in double figures, led by 17 points from sophomore point guard McKinley Wright IV, who also had five rebounds and four assists. Shane Gatling added had 15 points and six rebounds, Evan Battey had 10 points and eight boards, D'Shawn Schwartz had 11 points, three rebounds and three assists, and Alexander Strating had a career-high 10 points, including a huge basket down the stretch that began a decisive 8-1 Colorado run.
Tres Tinkle led Oregon State (18-13) with 23 points.
"I couldn't be more proud of our guys," Boyle said. "Our defense, the last two games, has just kind of ratcheted up to another level. And knew we were challenged in a different way tonight than we were yesterday with Cal (a 56-51 CU win). … We knew in the second half they were going to make some sort of a run at us, and they did. We bowed our backs. We never let it get below six. Our guys kept it in that 6-, 8-point range and bowed our backs and broke out at the end."
HOW IT HAPPENED: For the first 20 minutes Thursday, the game was no contest as the Buffs dominated OSU on both ends of the floor, leading by as many as 21 points and taking a 37-18 lead into intermission. Colorado shot 54 percent from the field in the first 20 minutes (15-for-28) while the Beavers were just 8-for-29 (28 percent), including a goose-egg 0-for-9 effort from 3-point range.
After 20 minutes, a Colorado win seemed all but a foregone conclusion.
But fourth-seed Oregon State had other ideas and threw a major scare into the Buffs. While CU struggled from the floor after halftime — hitting just 3 of 17 field goal tries in the first 13 minutes — Oregon State put together a pair of 10-0 runs to cut Colorado's cushion to six at several junctures, the last coming with 5:34 to play.
"We knew they were going to make a run," Wright said. "They cut the lead to six but we stood our ground and finished it off."
Indeed, just when the Oregon State crowd began to feed off the momentum switch, the Buffs regained control. Strating — who entered the game with five points as his career high — scored his 10th point of the game by putting the ball on the floor and driving past 6-11 Oregon State big man Gligorije Rakocevic to score at the rim with 5:16 to play.
The basket from Strating — who did not play in Wednesday's win over Cal — bumped Colorado's lead back to eight and started an 8-1 CU run that put the game away for good.
"When we recruited Alex, it wasn't because of his size, it wasn't because of his strength, it wasn't because of his skill, although, I thought he was a good shooter when I first saw him," Boyle said. "We recruited him for one reason, and that's toughness. That play shows great toughness. It shows great mental toughness and physical. It was a physically tough play, because there was contact, and he finished through the contact. For a guy that didn't play yesterday, that's just who he is. And he's always ready when this team needs him. His teammates love him. He's the epitome of toughness."
Strating, who had eight points in the first half after Battey and Tyler Bey both ran into foul trouble, said the play was designed to go to Wright, but Wright wasn't open on the screen.
"Rakocevic was really pressuring me and was really up on me," Strating said. "I felt like I could use my quickness and get the jump on him. It kind of turned into a bit of an 'iso' (isolation play). It wasn't meant to be like that, but that's how it turned out."
Battey followed Strating's basket with another drive to the rim before Wright and Schwartz both hit a pair of free throws, sandwiched around one OSU free throw. With 2:55 to go, Colorado's lead was back to 13, 63-50, and the Beavers never closed it to single digits again.
"Great team victory," Boyle said. "I can't say enough about (Strating). He didn't play yesterday and comes in today and gives us big-time minutes. Tyler was in foul trouble. Evan was in foul trouble. So Alex came in, did a great job guarding Tinkle. And it's a tough matchup. He did a great job in Boulder. Really proud of him, and really proud of Evan."
The Buffs jumped on Oregon State from the beginning and never let up in the first half, carving out a 37-18 lead by intermission. Colorado led 7-0 barely four minutes in, built its lead to 15-6 at the 12:15 mark, then put together a 13-0 run that produced a 28-8 cushion with 6:55 to go in the half on Gatling's third 3-pointer of the period.
It didn't matter who was on the floor for the Buffs. When starter Tyler Bey went out with his second foul less than six minutes into the game, reserve Alex Strating came in — and finished with a career-high eight points in the first half. Gatling led CU with 11 points before the half.
Defensively, the Buffs stymied the Beavers all half. OSU shot just 27.6 percent from the floor in the opening half (8-for-29), with Colorado holding Oregon State scoreless for a 5:35 stretch during the 13-0 run.
TURNING POINT: When the Beavers closed the gap to six with just under six minutes to play, the Buffs answered with an 8-1 run over the next four minutes to put the game away.
WHAT IT MEANS: Colorado is now in the conference tournament semifinals for the first time since 2014, with a chance to move on to the championship game for the first time since 2012.
KEY STATISTICS: The Buffs held a 39-28 rebound edge and had 14 assists to just 10 turnovers (compared to 23 the previous day vs. Cal). Colorado also held OSU to just 34 percent shooting for the game (18-for-53), including 3-for-18 from 3-point range.
QUOTEWORTHY: "In order to get to the finals, you have to get to the semis. We did what we had to do. These guys are playing like they don't want to go home. It's cold back in Colorado, so there's a good reason for that. I know the warm weather is coming. We want to extend the stay as long as we can." — CU head coach Tad Boyle
NEXT UP: Colorado advances to Friday's 7 p.m. (Mountain time) tournament semifinal against top-seeded and regular season champ Washington (25-7) at T-Mobile Arena. The Buffs lost both their regular season meetings with the Huskies this year.