BOULDER, Colo. (AP) -- Almost disbelieving, Colorado coach Tad Boyle watched miss after miss to start the game. Timeout to talk. Then, more and more errant shots as the Buffaloes began 1-for-19 from the field.
His message from the bench never wavered: Keep playing sticky defense and keep shooting because, well, they couldn't miss this many jumpers all afternoon, could they?
Colorado overcame an ice-cold start with Josh Scott scoring 18 points and Xavier Talton providing a late steal as the Buffaloes held on for a 70-62 win over California on Sunday.
"Were we 1-for-19?" Boyle asked with surprise. "Wow. Wow."
Following that dreadful start, the Buffaloes (17-5, 6-3 Pac-12) found their range against a stingy Bears defense. Dominique Collier added 14 points as Colorado split the season series with Cal (14-8, 4-5), which won 79-65 on New Year's Day.
"I think we all knew ... (we) were going to make some shots tonight," Scott said. "We knew we weren't going to shoot like that the entire night. We didn't."
No, they certainly didn't. They got on quite a roll and built a 17-point lead in the second half. But just like a few days ago in a win over Stanford, Colorado hit a rocky patch at the free throw line and saw a big advantage evaporate.
Behind the shooting of Jaylen Brown, the Bears rallied back and trimmed it to four on Brown's 3-pointer with 1:56 remaining.
Moments later, Talton came up with a crucial steal as he deflected a pass. That helped the Buffaloes hang on for their fifth victory in six games and remain in the thick of the Pac-12 race.
"We didn't make it easy for ourselves, obviously," Boyle said. "That's two games in a row where we've really had a convincing lead and haven't finished like we like to finish. With that being said, we did what we had to do. Cal is a good team. We knew they weren't going away."
Brown struggled early but finished with 21 points - all in the second half. He scored 13 of Cal's final 16 points.
"The second half I came out aggressive, trying to get my team back into the game," Brown said. "We had multiple chances to win this game."
Especially early on when they could've made Colorado really pay for such a sluggish start.
"We have to capitalize on our end and we didn't do a good job at that," California coach Cuonzo Martin said.
Cal was without Tyrone Wallace, averaging 15.4 points a game, for a fourth straight game after the senior guard broke a bone in his right hand in practice on Jan. 16. He will be sidelined another few weeks.
It wasn't exactly the start Colorado envisioned: Missing its first seven shots and making the fans stand through the shooting slump. The crowd doesn't sit until the Buffaloes make their opening basket, which finally happened on Scott's layup at 14:41.
But it was exactly how the Buffaloes imagined closing a half: On a 34-11 run that allowed them to take a 37-23 lead at halftime.
As the Buffaloes struggled to make shots, they relied on tenacious D.
"Coach always wants something to go better. He wants perfection," Scott said. "He's a little disappointed that we lost a 17-point lead. We're disappointed, too."
There was a comical moment in the middle of a tense game when Tre'Shaun Fletcher stepped out of his left shoe as he fell to the ground with 5:11 remaining. He maintained his dribble, passed the ball to Scott and then tossed his shoe into the crowd to get it off the court. Moments later, the officials stopped the game so the stocking-footed Fletcher could retrieve his sneaker.
California: Before the game, Wallace was on the court shooting left-handed jumpers with his right one in a cast. ... The series is tied at five since Colorado joined the conference in 2011-12. ... Ivan Rabb and Jordan Mathews each added 13 points.
Colorado: The school held a "Tom Apke Era" reunion this weekend, with the former Colorado coach and his players honored at halftime. Apke had a 59-81 record for Colorado from 1981-86. ... George King finished with 13 points.