The Colorado Buffaloes men’s basketball team, fresh off a 73-51 thrashing of Oregon over the weekend, began a two-game road trip with a Wednesday night contest versus the UCLA Bruins at Pauley Pavilion in Westwood, Calif.
Colorado (13-9, 4-6 Pac-12) emerged with a 84-73 victory, largely through the efforts of junior guard Shane Gatling, whose 22 points in the second half greatly aided the Buffs in manufacturing some much-needed momentum.
Gatling finished with a career-high 28 points, 21 of which came from his seven three-pointers. On the night, CU made 13-of-24 three-pointers.
Overall, the team converted 59 percent of its field goals.
“I’ve been telling Shane all year that his time is going to come,” said sophomore guard McKinley Wright IV. “We know how well he shoots the ball…today he showed up. It’s his mom’s birthday [today.] It’s only right for him to do so.”
The Buffaloes took multiple leads of over ten points in the first half, but two scoring droughts during that time, both of which were longer than two minutes, put UCLA right back into things by halftime, when the Buffs were clinging for dear life to their 38-37 lead.
“I’ve been pretty good about questioning our mental toughness when it’s not there,” said head coach Tad Boyle. “…We weren’t feeling real good about ourselves at halftime because of the way we finished [the first half.] But [we] came out and kept battling. Our mindset, confidence and I think our toughness is…where it [needs] to be.”
The Buffaloes got to work quickly behind sophomore guard D’Shawn Schwartz, who scored the team’s first eight points, which included back-to-back three-pointers.
Schwartz was the Buffs’ halftime leader with 12 points, ending the night with 15.
Shortly thereafter, sophomore forward Tyler Bey capitalized on a turnover forced by Gatling under UCLA’s basket and went airborne for a big dunk, forcing Bruins interim head coach Murry Bartow to take a timeout.
At that point, Colorado had built a 10-2 lead at the 16:23 mark of the first half. The Bruins managed just five points during the first 5:38 of the game, as the Buffs appeared poised to run away with things, having taken a 18-5 lead after close to six minutes of play.
However, UCLA managed to keep the game in a relatively competitive state, clawing back into the contest after the Buffs went on a 2:05 scoring drought near the halfway point of the opening 20 minutes.
Colorado took a 30-19 lead after five straight point from junior forward Lucas Siewert. His three-pointer with 9:18 left in the half featured exceptional ball movement from his teammates.
“What I loved tonight was how we shared the ball and the ball didn’t stick,” Boyle said. […Lucas Siewert’s three-pointer] in the first half [was as] good of a possession we’ve had in nine years that I’ve been the coach at Colorado.”
Colorado finished the game with 22 assists.
With 6:38 left before halftime, UCLA’s Jaylen Hands hit a three-pointer, bringing the Bruins within six, although they still trailed, 30-24.
The Buffaloes maintained a sizable lead for the next four minutes, eventually going up 38-28 with 2:39 left before halftime. But from that point until halftime, the wheels fell off the wagon for CU, as the Buffs failed to convert a single shot from the floor in that span while allowing the Bruins their chance to get back into the game.
UCLA took advantage, scoring nine unanswered points to trim the Buffs’ lead to just one point heading into halftime.
“Coach [Boyle] stressed that we have to close halves better,” said Wright IV. “We’ve got to do a better job of getting stops and rebounding.”
Gatling got the Buffs going at the start of the final half, drilling another three-pointer 14 seconds into play. But the Bruins tied the game at 43 with 17:41 to go after an offensive zone rebound and basket in the paint by Moses Brown.
Brown, the tallest man on the court at 7-foot-1, was a consistent thorn in the side of the Buffs on Wednesday. His 17 points led UCLA.
A few seconds over a minute later, the Bruins went up 45-43 for their first and only lead of the game, but that margin was quickly erased by yet another Gatling bucket from downtown.
Colorado looked close to pulling away with about 11 minutes left, but the Bruins fought back from a 58-51 deficit, and with 7:31 left in the game, Brown bullied his way to another rebound, made an easy basket, and closened the affair with CU up, 63-61.
However, Colorado steadily increased its lead and kept the pressure on the Bruins. After Gatling nailed a three from the left corner, Schwartz secured a rebound on UCLA’s ensuing trip to the offensive zone.
Schwartz fed it to Gatling, who then tossed a beauty of a pass to Bey, who completed the alley-oop with a crushing dunk, giving CU a 74-65 lead with 3:29 to play.
Bey had a big night for CU, as well, contributing a double-double of 16 points and 10 rebounds to the Buffs’ cause.
Wright IV, who finished with 12 points and eight assists, hit a three-pointer right after that, as the Buffaloes built on their already comfortable lead. From there, the clock became the main enemy for UCLA, which was unable to get within striking distance of Colorado for the remainder of the game.
“In the second half, [the Bruins] made their run, took the lead at one point [and] we just came together, guarded the ball really well and rebounded when we needed to,” Wright IV said.
Colorado will hope to extend its winning streak to three when the Buffaloes face off against the Southern California Trojans Saturday night at the Galen Center. Tipoff is at 8 p.m. MST.
Contact CU Independent Managing Editor Justin Guerriero at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @TheHungry_Hippo