BERKELEY, Calif. – In a game that featured most of the emotions of March Madness, the Colorado Buffaloes ended the regular season in despair, falling to California 66-65 in overtime on Saturday at the Haas Pavilion.
A CU victory would have secured a top four seed and a first-round bye in next week’s Pac-12 Tournament in Las Vegas. But the Buffs became one of five teams finishing 10-8 in conference play – joining Cal, Oregon, Arizona State and Stanford.
No. 5 seed CU will play USC, the No. 12 seed, in the first round (Wednesday, 3:30 p.m. MDT). The top four seeds, in order, are Arizona, UCLA, ASU and Cal.
CU (21-10) held Cal (19-12) without a field goal in Saturday’s extra 5 minutes, but the Golden Bears survived by making seven of nine free throws, with Justin Cobbs’ final pair giving Cal its one-point lead with 20.8 seconds left in OT.
After Xavier Talton missed from the left wing, Cal’s Tyrone Wallace was fouled and missed the front end of a one-and-one with 4.5 seconds remaining, giving CU one final shot. The Bears escaped with the win when Askia Booker’s potential buzzer beater was off the mark.
The Bears missed their final three field goal attempts in regulation and all seven of their shots in overtime.
“X. Talton had a great look from three,” CU head coach Tad Boyle told 850 KOA radio following the game. “He’s a good shooter; we’ll take that shot. I thought the difference in the second half was offensive rebounds.”
California had 13 offensive boards, and as Boyle and his staff counted, 10 of those came in the second half, allowing the Bears to find the second-chance points (nine) needed to win.
“We put ourselves in a position to win because we guarded and we rebounded,” Boyle said. “But we didn’t defensive rebound like we needed to in the second half – especially late.”
Entering the game, Colorado was 39-2 when out-rebounding its opponents and holding them to under 40 percent shooting from the field. The Buffaloes hit those numbers, but not the end result they were looking for; they limited Cal to just 35 percent (23-of-65) from the field and out-rebounded the Bears by 10 (45-35). CU shot 25-of-62 (40 percent) from the field.
California also scored 13 points off 12 Colorado turnovers, while only making five miscues that led to six Buffaloes points.
Colorado squandered a chance to win the game on the final possession of regulation after Cobbs made two free throws to tie the game at 59-59 with 28 seconds remaining. Talton let the clock to wind all the way down, but then forced a pass that resulted in a turnover. Cobbs heaved a half-court prayer that struck the back iron, sending the game into OT.
David Kravish gave Cal a one-point lead with a minute remaining in overtime after hitting two free throws. On the next possession, Booker drove the lane uncontested for a layup to give the Buffs a 65-64 lead with 49 seconds remaining.
Cobbs provided his team with the go-ahead points after forcing his way to the free throw line by attacking the paint and drawing a foul on Wesley Gordon. He hit both foul shots and the Bears had their one-point lead that managed to hold up.
“It’s disappointing one team had to lose that game,” Boyle said. “We came up a little bit short, we had our chances though and our guys battled and I’m proud of their effort.”
Cobbs led the Golden Bears with 21 points, while Kravish and Richard Solomon scored 14 points apiece. It was Senior Night for Cobbs and Solomon and they were allowed to exit Haas Pavilion for the final time victorious.
Colorado was led by Xavier Johnson, whose 24 points included 14 in the first half. Booker added 11 points for the Buffs and Josh Scott recorded his 13th double-double of the season with 10 points and 10 rebounds.
Booker hit his first 3-pointer in the last four games with 9:14 remaining, providing Colorado with a 50-42 lead. Johnson then gave the Buffs their biggest lead of the game after knocking down one of two free throws for a 51-42 advantage.
Minutes later, Scott hit a layup that pushed Buffs up 54-47 lead, but an 8-0 Cal run was highlighted by a Kravish jumper with 3:26 remaining.
The Buffs took a two-point lead after a block by Scott led to a Booker layup in transition that provided a moment of déjà vu. The same sequence occurred in Colorado’s 59-56 victory over Stanford on Wednesday when Booker made the same play after a Gordon block and provided CU a lead it would never relinquish.
Colorado took a 31-28 lead into intermission after a more than entertaining first half full of runs and drama.
Johnson caught fire for the Buffaloes early, scoring 14 of the team’s first 18 points on 5-for-7 shooting including a perfect 2-for-2 from beyond the arc. Johnson’s first-half career-best 14th point came after his second made trey, giving Colorado an 18-12 lead.
California would not be intimidated, though, answering with an 11-2 run to regain the advantage. The Buffaloes countered with an 11-2 run of their own, capped by a fade-away jumper by Booker as the shot clock expired. Cal had an answer again as Cobbs knocked down a deep 3-pointer to end the half.
Seeking their 22nd win, Boyle’s Buffs would have claimed the program record for most victories in a regular season, but instead will have to settle for a tie with the 1996-97 Buffs, who were led by Chauncey Billups.
“We wanted to make history,” Boyle said. “But we’ve still had a heck of a year and now we have to move forward and have a short memory . . . we’ll be ready to go (in the Pac-12 tourney); we just have to win that first one and live to see another day because it’s win or go home.”