LAS VEGAS – Colorado needed a lift down the stretch. All five players lent a hand in sharing the load.
Luke O’Brien hit a 3-pointer to break a tie with 1:15 remaining on an assist from Ethan Wright. Nique Clifford grabbed a steal. Julian Hammond III scored. The team came up with a defensive stop. Tristan da Silva grabbed the board, drew a foul and hit a pair of free throws.
Suddenly, the ninth-seeded Buffaloes were in the clear and topped No. 8 Washington 74-68 to advance to the Pac-12 Tournament quarterfinals against top-seeded UCLA, which is ranked No. 2 nationally.
“That goes to show what our team is about,” said Clifford, a Colorado Springs native. “We’ve got a lot of guys that can do a lot of different things. I Feel like you saw that at the end of the game, different dudes stepping up to help us get over that hump and win the game.”
The Buffs led by 14 early, but in true form during this up-and-down season that has seen two three-game losing streaks and a five-game winning streak, the road to the finish wasn’t a straight line.
Washington (16-16) pulled ahead, then the teams exchanged buckets with the lead changing hands five times before the teams found themselves tied 66-66 with 1:26 remaining.
“That’s when CU received a group effort in what coach Tad Boyle called a “gutsy win.”
“I feel like that kind of unites us more,” said da Silva, who scored 18 points, as part of the team effort near the end. “Everybody kind of has their part in the victory.”
CU (17-15) improved to 11-1 in the first round of the Pac-12 Tournament. This one was a dicey proposition, however, with point guard K.J. Simpson and leading rebounder J’Vonne Hadley unavailable with illness and injuries.
Filling the scoring gap was Hammond, who scored 21 points after averaging 4.8 points over his past nine games – going scoreless three times.
Hammond scored 15 points in the second half.
“Your players have to make plays down the stretch, and we did that, because that game could have gone either way,” Boyle said. “So give Washington credit for their fight, but our guys fought too and I'm really proud of 'em.”