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Colorado defeats Washington State 58-52 in Pac-12 semifinals

Cougars have never reached conference tournament title game

By MARK ANDERSON, AP Sports Writer
Published: March 15, 2024, 10:26pm

LAS VEGAS — Washington State had failed to reach 60 points just once this season.

That is, until Friday night.

Colorado held Washington State to a season low in points, KJ Simpson scored 16 points and the Buffaloes defeated the 22nd-ranked Cougars 58-52 in the Pac-12 Tournament semifinals.

Tristan Da Silva had 13 points and J’Vonne Hadley added 12 for the third-seeded Buffaloes (24-9), who extended their winning streak to eight games and will play fourth-seeded Oregon (22-11) in Saturday’s championship game. Colorado also tied the school record set in 2010-11 and 2011-12 for most victories in a season.

Washington State (24-9) will wait to see on Sunday where it is headed in the NCAA Tournament, but coach Kyle Smith said it was difficult to think about that after this loss.

“It’s kind of weird, you play a postseason tournament and then you’ve got another tournament,” Smith said. “It hurts too much to try to go there (emotionally). We had some long faces. It was pretty emotional for guys who really wanted it.”

Isaac Jones led the Cougars with 13 points, Jaylen Wells had 11 and Myles Rice finished with 10.

Simpson held Rice, the Pac-12 freshman of the year, to 4-of-13 shooting, including 0 for 6 from 3-point range.

“I have a chip on my shoulder not being (all-conference) first team on defense,” Simpson said, “and going out there and proving everybody wrong.”

His coach backed up that statement.

“KJ Simpson’s the best defensive point guard in this league,” Tad Boyle said. “It’s not even close.”

Washington State’s previous season low was 58 points in a 22-point loss at Utah on Dec. 29.

“Our defense has gotten a lot better over the last three, four weeks,” Boyle said. “We forced them into 19 turnovers. That’s something that Washington State doesn’t do very often is turn the ball over, so our pressure, I think, got to them.”

This is the third time in four years Colorado has appeared in at least the semifinals, and the Buffaloes are making their first trip to the championship game since 2021. Colorado lost to Oregon State 70-68 in that game.

Washington State has never played in the conference championship and won’t now with the Pac-12 about to become the Pac-2 with 10 of its members leaving. The Cougars are staying behind with Oregon State, but will be aligned with the West Coast Conference. The WCC also plays its tournament in Las Vegas.

This was just the Cougars’ fourth trip to the semis and first since 2008.

Colorado led the entire second half before Washington State caught the Buffaloes and took a 50-49 lead with 3:11 left.

But Colorado immediately took the lead back, this time for good, on two free throws by Simpson and a fastbreak layup by Hadley.

“I went to the huddle and told them, ‘We’ve got to win this game,’” Hadley said. “That’s all that mattered, and that’s all we did. It wasn’t about who was scoring the ball. It was about rebounding, defense and winning the game.”

BIG PICTURE

Colorado: The Buffaloes have the chance to be the first and last winners of the Pac-12 Tournament, at least in its current form. They captured the first one after the conference expanded to 12 teams in 2012, winning four games in four days as the No. 6 seed.

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Washington State: ESPN’s Joe Lunardi lists the Cougars as a No. 5 seed, and CBS’s Jerry Palm places the Cougars as a No. 7 seed. They are 43rd in the NCAA’s NET rankings and Kenpom. Washington State won six Quad 1 games, so that helps its argument for a higher seed.

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COLORADO 58, WASHINGTON STATE 52

COLORADO (24-9) — da Silva 6-9 0-1 13, Lampkin 4-6 1-2 9, Hadley 4-9 4-5 12, O’Brien 1-3 0-2 2, Simpson 4-15 6-7 16, Williams 2-6 0-0 4, Dak 1-3 0-0 2, Diop 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 22-51 11-17 58.

WASHINGTON ST. (24-9) — Jakimovski 1-7 1-2 4, Jones 6-9 1-2 13, Wells 4-10 0-1 11, Cluff 2-2 0-0 4, Rice 4-13 2-2 10, Houinsou 4-10 0-0 8, Chinyelu 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 22-52 4-7 52.

Halftime—Colorado 27-23. 3-Point Goals—Colorado 3-15 (Simpson 2-5, da Silva 1-3, Dak 0-1, Williams 0-1, O’Brien 0-2, Hadley 0-3), Washington St. 4-19 (Wells 3-8, Jakimovski 1-4, Houinsou 0-1, Rice 0-6). Rebounds—Colorado 25 (Simpson 7), Washington St. 34 (Chinyelu 8). Assists—Colorado 10 (Hadley 4), Washington St. 10 (Wells 4). Total Fouls—Colorado 10, Washington St. 14.

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