Coors Events Center was clothed in white to celebrate the seniors of the Colorado men’s basketball team. Before an applauding crowd of 11,043, the departing players left their home stadium with one final win, a dominant 70-57 effort.
Harper Kamp, Cal’s fifth-year senior, was at the other end of the emotional spectrum: “It might be one of the worst losses I’ve experienced.”
On a day when senior forward Austin Dufault became the Buffaloes’ second all-time career scorer, the Bears’ senior guard Jorge Gutierrez scored 0 points for the first time since Jan. 2, 2010.
On a day when Colorado announced its presence as a legitimate Pac-12 force, Cal lost its already precarious footing in the Pac-12 title race.
Mike Montgomery’s team entered its final two-game road trip with a simple goal: Win out, and stay in control of its destiny.
The Bears stuck to the script with an easy win over Utah on Thursday. Three days later, the Buffaloes tore apart the script.
Washington, now a half-game ahead and in sole possession of first place, must lose at least one of its final two games for Cal (23-7, 13-4 in the Pac-12) to win its second set of rings in three years.
Finishing the season on the road could present the Huskies with some difficulties, but they need only dispatch USC and UCLA. The Trojans are one of the worst major-conference teams in the country, while the Bruins are only a game above .500 in conference play.
Washington fell behind early against Washington State before coming back for a frantic 59-55 road victory.
Cal, riding a six-game winning streak, couldn’t do the same.
Colorado (19-9, 11-5) jumped the Bears immediately, opening the game on a 5-0 run. Cal seized the lead only once the entire day, a 12-11 advantage it held for only 32 seconds. With six minutes left in the half, Colorado scored eight unanswered points and never trailed again.
Kamp ended the run by splitting a pair of free throws at 3:55, but the Bears never truly threatened again.
The Buffs outshot in the first half, 46.2 percent to 34.6 percent. One culprit was Gutierrez, a defensive stalwart who was a leading candidate for Pac-12 Player of the Year. Gutierrez, who once attended Denver’s Lincoln High, led the Bears with nine rebounds but missed all seven of his field goal attempts and never got to the free throw line.
“Everybody says he’s the heart and soul of the team,” said shooting guard Allen Crabbe. “You just feel for him, because he works so hard. The great players, they have bad nights. It’s just unfortunate it was on this night.”
Gutierrez is shooting 32.4 percent over his past four games.
“He’s been having trouble shooting the ball, and it gets in his head,” Montgomery said.
The Bears still have one game left, a rivalry visit to Stanford a week away. Both teams are coming off tough losses — the Cardinal gave Utah its third Pac-12 win of the season — and will certainly be itching to erase the painful memories.
“If we can’t play better, that’s what it is,” Montgomery said. “The issue of finishing first is still on the horizon.”