CU Buffs the last team standing in Pac-12 semifinal slugfest against Washington State

Mar. 15—Fast break

Why the Buffs won: Defense. CU held Washington State to a .423 mark overall with a 4-for-19 effort from 3-point range.

Three stars:

1. CU's KJ Simpson: It was a rough shooting night for everyone against two inspired defenses —Simpson was 4-for-15 overall — but he went 2-for-5 on 3-pointers and 6-for-7 on free throws, finishing with team-highs of 16 points and seven rebounds.

2. CU's J'Vonne Hadley: Also solid at the free throw line (4-for-5), Hadley finished with 12 points and a team-high four assists.

3. WSU's Isaac Jones: Paced the Cougars with 13 points.

Up next: The Buffs will play for the Pac-12 Conference tournament championship on Saturday night against Oregon (7 p.m. MT, FOX).

LAS VEGAS — The Colorado men's basketball team began its tenure in the Pac-12 by claiming the championship in its first appearance in the conference tournament.

The Buffaloes will have an opportunity to end that tenure the same way.

In a rugged defensive affair that left behind plenty of bruises on both sides, it was the Buffs who delivered that late knockout blow, topping Washington State 58-52 on Friday night in the Pac-12 semifinals to advance to Saturday's championship bout.

The Buffs will face Oregon on Saturday night at T-Mobile Arena after the fourth-seeded Ducks rallied to upset top-seeded Arizona.

It will be CU's third Pac-12 title game appearance in 13 years in the league. Oregon will make its first championship game appearance since winning the tournament in 2019. The Buffs improved to 24-9 overall, tying the program record for wins in a season shared by the squads of 2010-11 and 2011-12, both of which reached their 24th wins after the conference tournaments.

"This was a hell of a college basketball game," CU head coach Tad Boyle said. "It wasn't the prettiest game by any means. It was a little big ugly at times. But you had two teams out there just battling and getting after it.

"So proud of these guys, just the fight and the grit that they played with down the stretch. We made plays when we had to make plays. We weren't at our best. I don't think Washington State was at their best. But you know what? I think we each had a lot to do with that. We had a lot to do with them not playing as well offensively as maybe they normally do. And I think they may have had something to do with why we didn't play as well offensively."

The win extended CU's winning streak to eight games, the program's longest since an 11-game win streak early in the 2015-16 season, and provided further breathing for the Buffs' NCAA Tournament hopes that were teetering precariously when they arrived in Las Vegas.

For much of the season, the Buffs at their best has featured high-scoring, free-flowing offense with point totals routinely north of 80. Yet March basketball is a different beast, and the Buffs have evolved, and improved, accordingly. CU's .431 shooting percentage against Washington State was its second-lowest mark in a victory this season, trailing only a .426 effort in a win against Richmond in the fourth game of the season. The Buffs' .200 3-point percentage (3-for-15) was the lowest mark in a win this year.

This one was all about defense, as CU held Washington State to a .423 mark and a 4-for-19 showing on 3-pointers, while also forcing 19 Cougars turnovers.

"We knew it was going to be a tough battle," CU point guard KJ Simpson said. "Two very competitive teams with a bunch of talent on both sides. It was just going to be a dogfight and it was going to be nothing easy. I think both teams experienced a lot of tough possessions. Shots weren't falling that usually fall. But we as a team understood that we had to guard defensively, no matter if our offense was clicking as much as it has been for much of the season."

CU led 27-23 at halftime and built a nine-point lead with a little less than 13 minutes remaining, but Washington State scored seven straight to set up a dramatic finish.

Washington State took a 50-49 lead with a little more than 3 minutes remaining on an inside bucket from Isaac Jones, but Simpson regained the lead for CU with two free throws with 2:47 to play. CU's J'Vonne Hadley and WSU's Kymany Houinsou traded baskets, keeping the Buffs' advantage at one point, when Luke O'Brien converted a floater in the lane off a feed from Hadley to give CU a 55-52 lead with 1:24 to play.

CU kept the Cougars off the scoreboard the rest of the way, and Eddie Lampkin Jr. sealed the win with a free throw with 4.6 seconds remaining, giving the Buffs a four-point lead and sealing a spot in the title game.

"I went to the huddle and told them, 'We gotta win this game.' That's all that mattered, and that's what we did," Lampkin said. "It wasn't about scoring the ball. It was rebounding, defense and winning the game. And that's all that mattered really at the end of the day."


O'Brien 1-3 0-2 2, Hadley 4-9 4-5 12, Simpson 4-15 6-7 16, da Silva 6-9 0-1 13, Lampkin 4-6 1-2 9, Williams 2-6 0-0 4, Dak 1-3 0-0 2, Diop 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 22-51 11-17 58.


Wells 4-10 0-1 11, Rice 4-13 2-2 10, Jones 6-9 1-2 13, Jakimovski 1-7 1-2 4, Cluff 2-2 0-0 4, Watts 0-0 0-0 0, Chinyelu 1-1 0-0 2, Houinsou 4-10 0-0 8. Totals 22-52 4-7 52.

Halftime — Colorado 27-23. 3-point field goals — Colorado 3-15 (O'Brien 0-2, Hadley 0-3, Simpson 2-5, da Silva 1-3, Williams 0-1, Dak 0-1); Washington State 4-19 (Wells 3-8, Rice 0-6, Jakimovski 1-4, Houinsou 0-1). Rebounds — Colorado 29 (Simpson 7); Washington State 23 (Jakimovski 6). Assists — Colorado 10 (Hadley 4); Washington Sate 10 (Wells 4). Turnovers — Colorado 12 (Hadley, Lampkin 3). Total fouls — Colorado 10; Washington State 14.