Colorado wanted to beat the Cal men’s basketball team badly, not just because of loss to the Bears five days earlier, but because both teams are fighting for NCAA Tournament spots.
After pulling out a second-straight tight victory in the Pac-12 Conference tournament, the Buffaloes have the edge on the NCAA bubble.
Askia Booker scored 17 points, Xavier Talton added 13 and Colorado held off Cal 59-56 in the quarterfinals of the Pac-12 tournament Thursday.
“You could tell from the start that our players really wanted this game,” Colorado coach Tad Boyle said. “That intensity about them that was pretty evident. And it was to a man. It wasn’t just one guy.”
Colorado (23-10) used that intensity to jump on the listless Bears (19-13) early, building the lead to as much as 11.
Cal fought its way back in the second half behind its defense, setting up a close finish.
The Buffaloes, who have struggled holding late leads this season, pulled out a tight victory in the opening round and did it again against Cal.
Booker put Colorado up 58-54 by hitting two free throws with 12.1 seconds left, but Justin Cobbs raced down for a layup and Eli Stalzer only hit one of two free throws to give the Bears a chance to tie.
Cobs got the ball, raced down the floor and got off a 3-pointer, but it came up short, sending the Buffaloes into tonight’s semifinals against fourth-ranked and top-seeded Arizona.
“It’s a scary knowing there’s a good player out there who can make shots with the ball in his hands,” Colorado forward Xavier Johnson said. “It really comes down to us not reaching that point and not letting them have a last shot.”
Cal rallied after a listless first half, but had trouble making plays down the stretch. The Bears missed a couple of close-range shots after taking the lead, had trouble gathering a late defensive rebound, and had a couple of critical turnovers and missed free throws down the stretch.