On Saturday, Feb. 26, the Colorado men’s basketball team lost 56-60 to the #4 University of California Los Angeles Bruins. After bouncing back strong from their 22-point loss to the University of Southern California on Feb. 24, the Buffaloes almost pulled off the upset of the season; however, in the end, the Pac-12’s best team walked out of the CU Events Center with a win.
The Buffs have now fallen to 15-15 overall and 7-12 in the Pac-12, ninth in the conference standings. Following the worst defensive performances of the season against the Trojans last Thursday, Colorado’s defensive pressure kept UCLA on their toes all night, despite a few messy possessions and unfortunate calls. Overall, the Buffaloes held the Bruins to a score of 13 points less than their season average on 40% shooting. However, despite this, the #4 team in the country still came out on top by the final whistle.
“The reason I think that the team is down and disappointed tonight is because [although] we fought our tails off, we still came up short,” said head coach Tad Boyle. “We could have folded our tents and felt sorry for ourselves, and we didn’t do that. The guys kept fighting, [but we] just didn’t make enough plays down the stretch.”
The Buffaloes got off to a great start on Sunday during the first quarter. They held the Bruins to a one of 10 shooting start in the first six minutes, forcing three quick turnovers and gaining an early 10-3 rebound advantage. However, both teams struggled to hold onto and shoot the ball over the course of the first half. CU managed to keep a narrow lead throughout, going up by two at halftime with 30-28.
Coming out of the locker room for the second half, the Bruins opened on a 10-2 run, with the Buffs only making one of their first nine shots. After UCLA missed a few shots in a row, the lead of the game bounced back and forth between the two teams, with a total of seven lead changes in the second half. Colorado took the lead 52-50 with four minutes left, thanks to a 3-pointer from Nique Clifford.
Then, the Buffs missed their next four shots, though they made a few points points from free throws. Lawson Lovering made two free throws with seven seconds left, putting the Buffs down by two. However, during the final moments of the game, CU turned the ball over on their last chance, handing UCLA the victory, 60-56.
“We’ve proven that we can go toe-to-toe now with the best team in the conference, though we’ve come up short both times,” Boyle said. “We were right there tonight. If we can do that against UCLA, it means we can beat anybody now.”
Colorado’s leading scorer, Tristan da Silva, left the game with about five minutes left due to a left ankle injury. After leading the Buffs for most of the game with 13 points, nine rebounds and two steals, the junior hobbled off straight to the locker room and didn’t return.
With da Silva and a few other players off the roster due to injuries, KJ Simpson and Luke O’Brien proved themselves to be two of the most key players in the game. Simpson finished with a team high 14 points, two rebounds and two steals. Though he was responsible for the final turnover for the Buffs, Simpson crucially made six of his seven free throws and forced the Bruin’s defense to step up every time he drove into the paint.
“With Tristan being out, I tried to take it upon myself to go make a play and try to play hero ball,” Simpson said. “But when you play a team like UCLA, obviously it’s kind of hard to do that. I think it was my fault individually in the end. I just needed to be more patient and get better shots for the team, whether that meant swinging it side to side or hitting it to whoever was open.”
After multiple games with at least nine points or rebounds, Luke O’Brien secured his first career double-double, finishing the game with 13 points, 10 rebounds (four of which came on the offensive side) and three 3-pointers. With the absence of J’Vonne Hadley and Jalen Gabbidon, O’Brien has become an important asset for CU, guarding the opponent’s best players and knocking down important shots, which he previously would have passed up.
“[We have] KJ and Tristan as the main guys shooting,” O’Brien said. “They do that at a high level, so I had to find my spark on the offensive end. That [meant] getting offensive rebounds and then defensive rebounds, so I could stay out on the court with those guys. I was just stepping it up on that part.”
Despite the Buffaloes leaving the CU Events Center with a loss, they played more competitively than in several of their previous games. With Colorado’s strong defensive playing, UCLA only made one of their 14 3-pointers all night and shot 40% as a team. The Buffs also ended with four more rebounds and five more total assists than the Bruins. Though Colorado gave up more turnovers and made more shots during the game, they couldn’t hold it together in the final few minutes.
After almost knocking off the best team in the conference, the Colorado Buffaloes have one last game on their regular season schedule. CU will host the Utah Utes (17-13 overall and 10-9 in the Pac-12) for Senior Night at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday, March 4, at the CU Events Center.
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Eli Gregorski at firstname.lastname@example.org.