BOULDER – The Colorado Buffaloes and junior guard Askia Booker opened the second half on the run and appeared ready to race past Washington State on Wednesday night. Not so fast, said the Cougars’ DaVonte Lacy.
The Buffs held on – far from tightly – for a 68-63 Pac-12 Conference win that was secured – but barely – at the foul line in the final 1:05. CU hit only 8 of 14 free throws during that span, but Booker’s 6 of 8 – including a pair with 2 seconds remaining – kept the Buffs afloat.
“A win’s a win,” said CU coach Tad Boyle, “especially in conference play. But it was not pretty, especially at the end. Obviously we have to finish better and that puts a bit of a damper on this win.”
With Lacy hitting 21 of his game-high and career-high 34 points in the second half – including five of his eight 3-pointers – WSU cut a 19-point CU lead to three (66-63) before Booker’s final pair of foul shots.
“We had a 19-point lead and gave it up,” said Booker, whose 26 points Wednesday night was one off his career high. “We took it down to the last second. We can’t let it get to that point. It seemed like we didn’t have enough energy towards the end and we can’t do that Sunday because that team is a lot better and will come in and finish us off.”
“That team” is Washington, which defeated CU 71-54 in Seattle last month and visits the Coors Events Center Sunday at 6 p.m.
Booker scored 15 of his total as the Buffs (17-6, 6-4) increased a three-point halftime lead to 50-33 with 8:25 to play, then to 54-35 less than 2 minutes later. But Lacy, who didn’t play in CU’s 71-70 overtime win in Spokane on Jan. 8, and the Cougars (9-13, 2-8) roared back with their shooting behind the arc.
They attempted 15 treys in the second half, hitting nine of them (60 percent) and finishing 13-of-27 for the game (48.1 percent). The Cougars’ 13 made 3-pointers tied their total in the first meeting and Elon’s output for the most by a CU opponent this season.
Boyle said the Buffs defended Que Johnson well (he made 2 of 11 field goals and finished with eight points) but faltered on Lacy. “Not so much on him,” Boyle said. “When you’re eight for 13 on threes, that’s not good enough (defense).”
CU’s Xavier Johnson backed up Booker with 20 points – they were the only two Buffs in double figures – and Johnson’s nine rebounds and Wesley Gordon’s 10 picked up the slack for a sub-par Josh Scott. CU’s leading scorer (14.4 ppg) and rebounder (9.1 rpg) didn’t get his first point or board until the game’s final half minute.
“Give Washington State credit,” said Boyle, “their game plan was double him every time he touched the ball. They did and they were on him quickly.”
The Buffs improved their home record to 14-1 this season and 58-8 at the CEC under Boyle. The 14 ‘W’s this season tie for the fourth-most home wins in program history.
The Buffs led 23-20 at halftime, but it was a weird, disjointed journey to that meager advantage.
Neither team sizzled from the field in the first 20 minutes; CU shot 39 percent, WSU 40. At one point, the Buffs went 6:32 between field goals. And at 13-13, there wasn’t a first-half rebounding edge – forever a point of contention for Boyle. CU wound up winning the board battle 32-28 and shot 48.1 percent in the second to finish at 44 percent (22-of-50). The Buffs committed what Boyle called a “manageable” 12 turnovers while turning 17 Cougars errors into 14 points.
After the Cougars took a 7-6 lead, the Buffs appeared to take control with a 9-0 run that opened their largest margin of the half – 15-7.
Jaron Hopkins opened the run with a trey from the left corner and George King closed it with a short pull-up jumper. Then the Buffs went stagnant offensively, not getting their next field goal for just over 61/2 minutes.
For the first time in five games, Hopkins didn’t start. He was replaced by Xavier Talton, but the sophomore from Sterling picked up two quick fouls and went to the bench only 2:28 into his first career start.
While CU was muddling through its offense, WSU capitalized, mainly on the shooting of Lacy. The 6-4 junior brought the Cougars back by scoring eight of his 13 first-half points in the final 5:47.
The Buffs outscored the Cougars 11-3 to open the second half, with Booker going to the rim and getting 10 of those points. CU opened its first double-digit lead of the game – 34-23 – with 16:01 remaining.
“Coach just told me to be aggressive,” Booker said. “I had to pick and choose my spots . . . I got to the basket and got some easy buckets in transition.”
Three consecutive 3-pointers by Talton, Booker and Dustin Thomas opened a 50-33 lead 81/2 minutes to play, but the Cougars kept shooting treys and hitting them.
“Lacy got open way too many times,” Booker said. “It came down to a three-point game and whether it be one man or three people that’s hot on their team, we have to find a way to win the game. And thank God we made those free throws at the end to hold them off.
“But at the same time you can’t let an individual come in here, especially on the road, and let him take over and keep his team in the game.”
The Buffs have until Sunday to figure out how to do that. UW’s C.J. Wilcox scored 31 on the Buffs, hitting seven treys, in the meeting in Seattle.