It took a flurry of big three-pointers, a disputed last-second foul and a clutch game-sealing free throw, but Colorado managed to thwart Oregon's bid to be the first Pac-12 team to win in Boulder this season.
When Colorado corralled the rebound of Olu Ashaolu's potential go-ahead free throw with the score tied and just a few ticks left on the clock, Nate Tomlinson furiously drove the ball up the court and drew contact from E.J. Singler as he attacked the rim. To the delight of the pro-Buffaloes crowd, referees whistled Singler for the foul, enabling Tomlinson to sink the game-winning free throw for a 72-71 victory.
The call sent Oregon coach Dana Altman into a rage when it was made, but it's pretty clear referees got this one right. Even though it's always preferable for players to decide the outcome instead of a referee's whistle, Singler's feet were far from set when Tomlinson crashes into him and his subsequent attempt to block the shot also appeared to result in further contact.
Perhaps Altman had seen a replay before he spoke to the media on Saturday night because he'd calmed down considerably by then.
"Part of the game," he told the Eugene Register-Guard. "We didn't shoot free throws well; they beat us at the free-throw line. That was a big difference."
The victory was critical for surprising Colorado because it kept the Buffs (16-7, 8-3) within a game of first-place Washington for the Pac-12 lead. Five of Colorado's final seven games are on the road, however, beginning with a suddenly very significant game on Thursday at Arizona.
Picked 11th in the Pac-12 preseason poll after losing four of its top five scorers from last year's team that narrowly missed the NCAA tournament, Colorado has relied on a youthful roster to emerge as the league's most pleasant surprise. Freshman guards Spencer Dinwiddie and Askia Booker combined for 33 points on Saturday against Oregon.
The Ducks (16-7, 7-4) came closer than any Pac-12 team to winning in Boulder, but they nonetheless fell two games behind the first-place Huskies. In a year in which their margin for error is thin as a result of the weakness of the league and a lack of marquee non-conference wins, the Ducks might need to win as many as six of their final seven to secure an NCAA tournament berth.