BERKELEY, Calif. - Plagued by frigid shooting against the Pac-12 Conference's hottest team, Colorado missed out on a chance to sweep its Bay Area road trip by losing 62-46 to California here Saturday afternoon.
CU, ranked fifth in the Pac-12 Conference going into Saturday's game, falls to 19-9 overall and 9-7 in the Pac-12. The third-ranked Golden Bears, winning their seventh consecutive game, improved to 20-9 overall and 12-5. CU won 65-63 at Stanford on Wednesday, its third consecutive road win.
But Colorado struggled offensively Saturday with a season low in points, field goals made (15) and field goal shooting percentage (23.1). Freshman forward Xavier Johnson was the only CU player in double figures with 14 total points. Freshman Josh Scott also returned to the lineup after missing two games with a concussion. He scored four points and grabbed 11 rebounds.
Cal's Justin Cobbs and Tyrone Wallace scored 16 points each, while David Kravish added 14 points and 11 rebounds. Wallace also hauled down 11 boards.
"We didn't have one guy offensively make a shot tonight, but you have to credit Cal, they man-handled us," CU coach Tad Boyle said. "Our first shot defense was pretty good but those second-chance shots were tough."
While the Buffs recorded a season-low six turnovers on the afternoon and a season-high 20 offensive rebounds, Boyle said his players didn't take advantage of those opportunities like the Bears did. Moreover, Cal outscored CU 44-12 in the paint.
"They key to the game was in the second half on the boards, down on their end. (Cal forward) Richard Solomon came up big with every rebound and put-back," Boyle said. "I don't fault our guy's effort or desire, I mean 20 offensive rebounds, you don't do that by accident, but we just couldn't convert once we got them. I mean, if this doesn't motivate our guys to get in the weight room, then I don't know what does."
The Buffs came into Saturday's matchup looking to smother guard Allen Crabbe, the leading scorer in the Pac-12 at more than 18 points per game. But when Crabbe recorded his third personal foul with 5:11 remaining in the half, he took to the bench.
An improving Cal team executed offensively without its star scorer, though. The Golden Bears went on an 8-0 run over the next four minutes to go up 22-15, and while senior guard Sabatino Chen hit a three to end the half on an energetic note, the Buffs were still down four (24-20) at intermission.
The Golden Bears held the Buffs to just 26 percent shooting in the first half, CU's worst first-half field goal percentage this season, and the Buffs' 20 first-half points tied a season low recorded earlier this season at Washington.
Much of CU's shooting woes came from a failure to capitalize off of Cal turnovers, as CU had a plus-2 turnover margin going into halftime, but had five fewer points off of turnovers than its opponent. Cal finished with eight points off of CU's six errors, while CU managed just one from Cal's 11.
The Buffs found some energy out of the locker room, closing the gap back to two on a Xavier Johnson trey with 14:16 left in the game. Cal responded, though, with an 8-3 run over the next five minutes capped by a SportsCenter Top-10-worthy dunk by Wallace.
"When a game is called in a way that is letting you be physical, you have to be physical," Boyle said. "Our guys weren't able to match that tonight in terms of finishing with the ball at the rim, and they were."
Cal had widened its gap to nine by the 5:32 mark - and with a final shooting percentage of 23.1 from the field, the Buffs' comeback attempt came nowhere close. By the final buzzer, CU was down 16 and went back to Boulder with its 62-46 loss.
"Cal wasn't this Cal when they came to Boulder a month ago," said Boyle, whose team won the first meeting 81-71. "So they've improved. We were the best defensive team in the league for a stretch there, but these guys have overtaken us and you can see why."
CU returns to the Coors Events Center next weekend for its final two regular season matchups, against No. 24 Oregon on Thursday (7 p.m.) and Oregon State on Saturday (2:30 p.m.).
Boyle called Saturday's contest "a big time game and we didn't answer the bell. But it wasn't because of our lack of effort and we can't get too down on ourselves. We have two big games next week at home."
At 12-4 in the Pac-12, Oregon currently holds the top spot in the conference, while OSU is 11th at 3-13.
With the top Pac-12 teams all gunning for a hotly-contested first-round bye in the Pac-12 Tournament (Mar. 13-16 in Las Vegas), a positive turnaround is crucial for the Buffs when they return to the CEC.
Or, as Boyle phrased it, "We can't cry in our soup here."