When it comes to College Basketball in March, the goal is simple: survive and advance. That is exactly what the Colorado Men’s Basketball team did in their game against the Washington Huskies. In the opening game of the 2023 Pac-12 tournament, Colorado proved just a bit too much for Washington, winning the game 74-68. This win sees Colorado advance to the quarterfinals of the tournament, where they will play UCLA.
Colorado started the game determined to show that despite being the ninth seed, they are still a tough team to beat. Colorado opened the scoring on a Tristan Da Silva 3-pointer and after a solid run, Colorado had leaped out to an 11-4 lead. Washington would keep themselves in the game with points from Jamal Bey and Keion Brooks Jr. but the Buffs’ hot hand kept them in the lead.
After a nearly four minute scoring drought for both teams, Colorado caught fire on both ends of the floor. Da Silva and Julian Hammond III went shot-for-shot, pushing the Colorado lead to 14 with just over three minutes to play. Defensively, the Buffs locked down Washington, holding them to just 7-26 from the field and only 1-10 from the three-point line. Despite seeing success on both sides of the floor, Colorado let Washington back into the game in the last three minutes of the game and saw their 14-point lead drop to eight as they entered halftime up 28-20. Head Coach Tad Boyle touched on the way his team ended the half.
“I was not real pleased with the way we ended the first half,” said Boyle. “So we kind of, in my mind, we let Washington back in the game. But to their credit, they didn’t go away. We knew they were going to probably make a run at some point.”
That is exactly what Washington did coming out of the half. A Keyon Menifield three followed by a Cole Bajema three quickly saw Colorado’s lead collapse to just two points. The second half would be a dog fight and saw the lead change on what seemed like every possession. Washington took their first lead of the game around the halfway mark of the second half, setting the stage for a fantastic finish.
With KJ Simpson out with an illness, the point guard duties fell on the shoulders of Hammond and he took on the responsibility in stride. Hammond was crucial to Colorado’s success down the stretch and finished the game with 21 points, shooting 7-12 from the field and going a perfect 5-5 from the free-throw line.
“I’m just prepared every day,” said Hammond. “I feel ready to go when I get the opportunity. It’s a bigger role, so I know I’m going to have to do more than what I usually do. But I don’t feel like it’s any extra pressure or anything. I’m just going out there and playing, having fun, and doing what I can do.”
With 6:39 left in the second half, Colorado would take the lead for good. Despite desperate attempts from Washington to try and gain the momentum back, the Buffs closed the door on the Huskies. Colorado got solid contributions from the team but one player particularly stood out: Lawson Lovering. While the box score may not show it – nine points, five rebounds and one turnover – Lovering’s presence was a key factor in Colorado’s success on both sides of the floor. Da Silva spoke after the game on the impact Lovering had on the game.
“His presence in general is just – it’s just really beneficial for this team,” said Da Silva. “On offense, he can be a loud threat, I guess. But he’s putting pressure on the rim at all times. People got to respect that he’s shooting 55-60% from the field. Teams got to respect that in the paint.”
With this win, Colorado faces UCLA; the number one overall seed in the tournament and the number two-ranked team in the nation. It was merely a week and a half ago that these two teams met in Boulder, a game that saw UCLA squeak out a win, 60-56. This match-up could prove to be much different as UCLA will be without Jalyn Clark, who was recently named the 2023 Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year. Clark suffered a lower leg injury and it was recently announced that he suffered a torn ACL.
Colorado is set to tip off their quarterfinal match-up against UCLA at 1 p.m. MST. The game will be televised on the Pac-12 network.
Contact CU Independent Sports Editor Jason Marks at Jason.Marks@colorado.edu.