PULLMAN, Wash. - On a night when the Colorado Buffaloes' offense came and went, their constant was defense - and it carried them to their second Pac-12 Conference victory and first of the season on the Pac-12 road.
Grinding and grinding, CU finally ground down Washington State 58-49 Saturday night at half-full (5,418) Beasley Coliseum.
After his team's pregame meal, Buffs coach Tad Boyle told his players that the "hungrier, tougher team" would win Saturday night - and the Buffs proved to be both. "I'm proud of our team for doing whatever it took," Boyle said. "That's one of the things we talked about before the game - whatever it takes. And our guys did it."
Now at 2-4 in the Pac-12 (12-6 overall) and coming home for a pair of games, the Buffs avoided sliding into a hole they might have had great difficulty exiting. "Who knows what would have happened (with a loss)," said sophomore guard Askia Booker. "I don't know if our heads would have gotten down or if we would have picked ourselves up. But I know this was a big win."
CU survived a cold-shooting final 6:15 of the first half and fell behind by four points early in the second half. But, noted Boyle, "We didn't panic, which I thought was a sign of maturity with this team. They took the lead, but we bowed our backs and made some plays offensively when we had to. Then defensively, we were good all night. We wanted to dictate with our defense and I think our guys did a good job for the most part."
In fact, the Buffs were good on 'D' for a second consecutive night. Although they lost on Wednesday at Washington (64-54), they held the Huskies to 33.9 percent from the field. CU held WSU to 34.5 percent, and the Cougars' 29.6 field goal percentage was the lowest by a CU opponent this season at halftime.
CU junior Andre Roberson was largely responsible for limiting Brock Motum - the Pac-12's second-leading scorer (19.4 ppg) - to a season-low 13 points. "People will look at Andre's numbers (four points, seven rebounds) and say he didn't have a good game," Boyle said. "But he was terrific on Motum. He made him work for everything he got."
Five Cougars, including Motum, had been in double figures in the previous game - a 10-point win over Utah. But Motum and Mike Ladd, who also scored 13, were the only WSU players in double figures Saturday night for the Cougars (10-8, 1-4).
CU, meanwhile, got 16 points from Spencer Dinwiddie, 14 off the bench from Xavier Johnson and 11 from Josh Scott. Booker hit only three of his 11 field goal attempts and finished with seven points, but two of his field goals were at critical second-half junctures when the Buffs were keeping the Cougars at bay.
"I think we made plays when we had to make plays," Boyle said. "That's what you have to do, especially on the road. We've got some guys who are much better than the way they've been playing . . . at the end of the day, when you're playing on the road and it's a tight game, you've got to have your best players step up - and I think that happened."
Johnson, who had started in Seattle, wound up playing 20 minutes and, along with Scott, was critical in Boyle's game plan of working the Cougars inside. The Buffs wound up winning the battle in the paint 32-24 and on the boards 36-32. Johnson's 14 points helped CU's bench outscore WSU's 20-11. Against UW, CU managed only three bench points.
Johnson, a 6-6 freshman, said CU's offense was erratic three nights earlier in Seattle: "At Washington, the offense didn't come that well, but in this game we got a little more motion going on and our ball movement and spacing were creating easy shots for us. But the thing that kept us in this game was defense."
Boyle called Johnson's night "terrific . . . he gave us big minutes. I think he's starting to come into his own a little bit. We know what Josh gives us, and Spencer was efficient but he's capable of playing better. We've got a lot of guys who are capable of playing better, but when you win on the road you've got to take it and move on."
Dinwiddie buried the Buffs' only three-pointer of the night - they are now 2-for-19 from beyond the arc in their last two games - but it came in the final 6 minutes when the Cougars were trying to rally. That shot restored a five-point CU lead, and he followed with a pair of free throws at the 4:37 mark for another five-point margin.
The Buffs led 23-19 at halftime, but it took a buzzer-beating three-pointer by Will DiIorio to get the Cougars that close. After a 9-9 tie, CU went ahead by as many as seven point on four occasions during the half's final 6:15.
Among Boyle's Saturday night goal for the Buffs was to be more selective in their shot selection and move the ball like they've shown they're capable of in practice. CU was hit-and-miss in both areas, with the offense bogging down at times and the Buffs playing their second consecutive game without a three-pointer in the opening 20 minutes.
In fact, CU finished the half's final 6:15 without a field goal, getting four of four free throws from Scott and one of two from Johnson to maintain their seven-point lead until DiIorio's late trey.
The Cougars outscored the Buffs 7-2 in the second half's first 31/2 minutes and regained the lead (26-25) for the first time since 9-7. Then, five consecutive points from Royce Woolridge allowed WSU to take its largest advantage (31-27) of the night.
The Buffs desperately needed a field goal - and Johnson provided a pair to pull them within one point (32-31). A fast-break layup by Dinwiddie pushed CU back ahead by one, setting up what appeared would be a back-and-forth final 10 minutes. It was - for maybe a minute and a half.
Booker, who had two first-half points on one-for-five shooting, hit a jumper to pull the Buffs into a 37-37 tie, Dinwiddie followed with a traditional three-point play, then Booker buried another jumper for a 42-37 CU advantage.
Booker said he was able to maintain his confidence because his teammates and Boyle maintained their confidence in him: "When coach says he wants you to make a play with seven seconds left on the shot clock, it makes you feel good."
WSU had 7:21 remaining to make up its five-point deficit, but could get no closer than three points in the final 5 minutes. CU increased its lead to 11 (58-47) on two free throws by Roberson with 28.3 seconds to play, allowing the Buffs to finally feel safe about a rare road win.
CU comes home next week to play Stanford (Thursday, 8 p.m.) and California (Sunday, 1:30 p.m.) before traveling to Utah the following Saturday to open February.