BOULDER — Colorado put four players in double figures and the Buffaloes’ men’s basketball team hammered out an 88-78 win over Cal on Wednesday at the CU Events Center.

Tad Boyle‘s Buffs won their third in a row to improve to 15-1 at home, 19-9 overall and 10-7 in Pac-12 play. The Bears dropped to 13-16, 9-9.

KJ Simpson led the Buffs with 27 points — 18 in the second half — and added seven rebounds and eight assists. Tristan da Silva tallied 22 points, seven rebounds and six assists; J’Vonne Hadley scored 13 and Eddie Lampkin Jr. chipped in 12.

Jaylon Tyson led Cal with 25 points.

The Buffs took the lead less than four minutes into the game and never trailed, but there were still some tense moments. Colorado had a 14-point lead at the half thanks to 18 points from da Silva, only to see the Bears shave that deficit to just five midway through the second half.

But Simpson then took control to help the Buffs push their lead back to double digits and the Bears never threatened down the stretch.

The Buffs shot 50% from the floor (29-for-58) and hit 23 of their 29 free throw attempts. CU held the Bears to 42 percent shooting (29-for-69), including just 9-for-31 from long range.

Colorado also held a 40-31 edge on the boards and the Buffs’ strategy of trying to push the pace all night paid off with a 22-8 edge in fast break points.

CU also collected the win without the services of starter Cody Williams and key reserve Julian Hammond III, both of whom were out with injuries.

“Cal’s a heck of a team but I thought our guys locked in as the second half wore on,” Boyle said. “I thought the pace of the game was key. We’re playing at altitude, we’re in good shape and it takes its toll. Tristan was phenomenal in the first half and I can’t say enough about KJ in that second half.”

With his team up by 14 at the half, Boyle reminded the Buffs about their first meeting with Cal this year when the Bears erased a 14-point deficit at the half to collect a win on their home court.

“They came out and scored on 11 of their first 13 possessions,” Boyle said. “We weren’t too proud of that. But once our guys locked in defensively we got some stops, extended the lead and then finished it off strong.”

HOW IT HAPPENED: The Buffs led by 14 at the half, 45-31, thanks in large part to 18 points from da Silva.

 “Tristan was terrific tonight and we need him to be, especially with being shorthanded,” Boyle said. “The guys that are playing in that rotation are so critical.”

But the Bears stormed back in the opening minutes of the second half, hitting 10 of their first 13 field goal attempts to close the gap to five, 58-53, with 12:56 still to play.

Colorado, though, weathered the storm as guard Simpson took charge.

Simpson hit two free throws with 9:04 to play to give CU a 67-59 lead, then stole the Cal inbounds pass and dished to Javon Ruffin, who buried a 3-pointer to put the Buffs up by 11.

Cal momentarily cut the deficit back to eight on three free throws before the Buffs answered again with a 9-2 run to take firm control. Simpson had six points in the surge, including a layup with 4:41 to play that gave Colorado an 83-68 lead.

CU played just seven players, with Simpson logging all 40 minutes and da silva and Hadley each playing 39. But the Buffs did get quality minutes from reserves Ruffin and Assane Diop, with Ruffin hitting two key 3-pointers in the second half and Diop finishing with a career-best seven rebounds.

After the Buffs pushed their lead to 15, the Bears never came closer than nine again.

The victory kept the Buffs in the hunt for a top-four conference finish and the first-round Pac-12 tourney bye that goes with it.

CU is also still squarely in the hunt for an NCAA Tournament berth, currently hovering in the “bubble” range.

“We’re not oblivious to it,” Simpson said. “But I think our main focus is understanding that we have to focus on the next opponent. That’s our main priority. And as long as we take care of it one by one, things will take care of themselves down the road.”

While the Bears kept it relatively close for much of the game, Colorado used an 8-0 run in the opening minutes to erase a 6-2 Cal lead and the Buffs never trailed again.

The Bears managed to stay within striking range for the first 10 minutes by knocking down five 3-pointers, pulling to within 23-19 with 9:29 remaining in the half.

But the Buffs put together a 10-0 run to take control. Da Silva sparked the surge with seven points before a Luke O’Brien 3-pointer gave Colorado a 33-19 lead. Colorado then pushed its edge to 15 points minutes later on a Hadley three-point play before increasing the cushion to 16 when two da Silva free throws gave the Buffs a 43-27 lead.

The Bears did cut the lead with a basket in the final minute but the Buffs still took a comfortable 14-point edge, 45-31, into the break.

DECISIVE MOMENT: With 9:18 to play, the Bears had shaved Colorado’s lead to just six. But Simpson hit two free throws, then stole the inbounds pass and hit Ruffin, who drained a 3-pointer to put the Buffs up by 11, 70-59. Cal never came closer than eight again.

WHAT IT MEANS: Colorado remained firmly in contention for a top-four Pac-12 finish and first-round conference tournament bye. The Buffs also pulled to within one victory of the 20-win mark while adding to their NCAA tourney resume.

KEY STATISTICS: The Buffs shot 50% from the floor (29-for-58) and hit 23 of their 29 free throw attempts … CU held the Bears to 42 percent shooting (29-for-69), including just 9-for-31 from long range … Colorado held a 40-31 edge on the boards and the Buffs racked up a 22-8 edge in fast break points.

NEXT UP: The Buffs play their final regular season home game of the season Sunday when they play host to Stanford in a 7 p.m. game at the Events Center (FS1). They then hit the road next week for a pair, beginning with a 7 p.m. game March 7 at Oregon (ESPN2), then a 3 p.m. game March 9 at Oregon State (Pac-12 Network). After that, it’s the Pac-12 tournament in Las Vegas running from March 13-16.


Story by Neill Woelk, Contributing Editor for Content courtesy of the University of Colorado at Boulder.