Eight days after becoming the winningest coach in Colorado history, Tad Boyle and the Buffaloes (9-5, 1-2 Pac-12) edged out a road win down the stretch against the Stanford Cardinal (5-8, 0-3 Pac-12). The Cardinal remain winless in Pac-12 play, and the team’s postseason prospects look grimmer and grimmer by the day.
An offensive explosion allowed the Buffaloes to build a 17-8 lead early in the game. But the Cardinal climbed back quickly thanks to a scoring spurt from senior forward Spencer Jones. Jones scored 11 points, including nine from beyond the arc, to allow Stanford to take their first lead of the game. Thanks to his 17 first half points, Jones was able to hit a career milestone, surpassing 1,000 points in his time on the Farm.
“It means I’m old,” said Jones in jest after being asked about the accomplishment. “It’s a nice milestone. I’m obviously more focused on wins, but it’s nice to have something like that under your belt.”
The Cardinal were able to maintain their lead throughout the half thanks to offensive rebounds, collecting five over the course of the first half. Freshman guard Ryan Agarwal also logged impactful minutes, hitting two threes in five minutes played.
On the other side, star guard KJ Simpson Jr. led the Buffaloes with 13 points in the first half. Simpson’s play, along with points off turnovers, helped keep Colorado within striking distance. Both teams shot over 50% from the field in the first half, and at halftime, the Cardinal led 37-33.
However, the second half featured worse shooting performances, as both teams went cold from beyond the arc. Despite shooting an abhorrent 31.8% from the field, the Cardinal were able to stay on the scoreboard due to their 22 free throw attempts. For the Buffaloes, the second half featured a heavy dose of Simpson. His playmaking and free throw attempts, along with Colorado’s swarming defense, allowed the Buffaloes to stay within one to two possessions of the Cardinal.
“We tried a lot of different things,” Haase said. “We tried a couple times doubling the ball screen, we tried different matchups on him, we tried different coverages: with switching, a higher hedge with the bigs, a drop coverage where we put the bigs back at the rim. None of them were overly effective.”
In the final five minutes of the game, Simpson played like Superman, scoring the Buffaloes’ final 11 points. The sophomore from West Hills, Calif. hit two shots inside the arc and four free throws to put Colorado on top 69-68 with 2:06 remaining.
But the Cardinal wouldn’t surrender without a fight, as Spencer Jones hit two free throws to give Stanford a 70-69 lead with 1:34 remaining. After a short scoreless drought from both teams, Simpson hit a layup with 18 seconds left to put the Buffaloes up one. On the next possession, Colorado forced junior guard Michael O’Connell to give the ball up after a downhill drive. The ball landed in the hands of senior forward James Keefe, who attempted a hook shot in the paint. The shot missed, the Buffaloes corralled the rebound and were able to clinch the game at the free throw line.
“We wanted Michael O’Connell going downhill, we thought we might be able to get something at the rim: an uncontested layup for him or come to a stop and have options out of that,” Haase said. “We had Brandon making a 45 degree cut, we had Jones in the corner, we had James diving down as well. I asked Michael to come to a stop, he came to a stop, he made an easy pass to James. That shot looked like the one in the conference tournament against Arizona State but it didn’t go in.”
This also marks yet another game where Stanford was unable to close down the stretch.
“It’s me looking in the mirror and finding out as head coach [how] we get over the top right now,” Haase said. “It’s obvious we’re close against a lot of good teams, and we need to find a way to squeeze out another basket or one more stop to finish the deal.”
Up next, Stanford will stay home in Palo Alto to take on the Utah Utes (10-4, 3-0 Pac-12) in another conference showdown. The Utes have been the surprise team of the Pac-12 so far, going undefeated through three games in conference play. Meanwhile, Stanford is looking to earn its first Pac-12 win of the young conference slate. Tipoff is scheduled for 3 p.m. PT on New Year’s Eve.