BOULDER – They’re good enough to break your heart. Baby Buffs had UCLA number 9 on Saturday night. UCLA looked exhausted and hurt, forced to defend a 2-point lead with 25 seconds left.
CU, cutting the Bruins’ 17-point lead in the second half to 65-63, had possession and momentum. While the Events Center held its breath, Buffs rookie quarterback KJ Simpson got the stone with 18 seconds left, crashed down the lane, prepared for contact and let it fly.
Nada. UCLA ran out, 71–65. KU has been decommissioned. Fought to the end.
If the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee were to judge rosters by courage, the Baby Buffs would be in fifth place.
And on smart? For ingenuity? Not so much.
CU (12-6, 4-4 Pac-12) flipped it 21 times on Saturday, allowing you to beat anyone, anywhere. Especially if those people are from Westwood.
Coach Mick Cronin’s Bruins aren’t just talented—they’re built on toughness, one of Cronin’s core mantras brought over from Cincinnati three years ago.
The Bruins are also very nimble, always poking, pushing, pushing. Against a young Buffs back who went into the weekend with the third-highest turnover in the Pac-12 (13.4 on tilt), this player had the potential for disaster.
Sure enough, CU’s seven losses in a five-minute stretch halfway through the first half turned UCLA’s 22-20 lead into a 32-21 reserve with 3:47 to go.
The Bruins beat CU 18-0 on rallies in the first half, 12-5 on second chance points and 20-6 on points. The last five minutes of the first half and the first five minutes of the second were like a varsity game (Bruins) against JV (Buffs).
The children continued to swing. Two setbacks by Tristan da Silva took the hosts to six, 53-47, with 8:12 left. Decisive Jabari Walker and-1 with 3:49 left lifted the hosts to three, 58-55. Two minutes later, a two-handed Walker hit made the Bruins 62–61.
However, such nights are priceless. As are the possibilities. The best thing about Pac-12 this year is also the worst: it’s a major heavyweight league with three Big Dance castle-like teams (Arizona, UCLA, USC) followed by a frantic scramble to avoid the mosh pit.
The best way to stand out from the crowd is through “quality” wins, another stat that was missing from buffs at the end of January. Before Saturday night, CU was 0-4 in games against so-called Quad 1 opponents, as defined by the NCAA’s NET metric – the selection committee’s cut for how you handled teams likely to do the big dance.
Short version: A Quad-1 win is defined as a home win over a NET top 30 team; a neutral victory on the court over a team from the top 50 NET; and a road win over a top 75 NET team.
The rest of the CU battle map, alas, offers only two opportunities on that front – in Washington state (NET rating on Saturday: 60) next Sunday, and at home in Arizona (NET rating: 1) on February 26th. That’s all.
If the Buffs learn to take care of the ball, they’ll have what it takes – and, of course, the talent – to do both. Center Lawson Lovering has a ceiling that only eagles can touch. But the guy, God bless him, looks like a deer in the headlights half the time. In other words, like a freshman.
According to Sports-Reference.com, CU only returned 37.9% of last season’s points. Average Buff experience per player: 1.4 seasons. Among the Pac-12 programs, only Stanford is greener (1.3 seasons).
Some lessons are still learned the hard way. College hoops is a guards game. McKinley Wright stared into the eyes of the approaching train and didn’t blink. You go as your point guard goes.
Baby Buffs are still out there. On Saturday, Simpson took another step forward. When CU players one day talk about growing pains, they will point to the last five days, those close losses at home to USC and UCLA and laugh. In the end. With hope.