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The game was exhausting. It was exhausting for the fans, who were at the Coors Events Center well past 11 p.m., and it was even more exhausting for the players, who turned in one of the most physical games of the year in the Pac-12. Those 20 players and 9,666 fans (including John Elway) left everything they had at the Coors Events Center, as Colorado held on late to beat Arizona State University 61-52 Wednesday night.
Sophomore forward Josh Scott, the double-double machine, produced 13 points and 13 rebounds. Junior guard Askia Booker added 18 points despite shooting only five of 17 from the field.
ASU freshman guard Jahii Carson also had 18 but didn’t shoot well, connecting on only five of 15 attempts.
The best way to beat the Sun Devils is to dominate their big men physically, and the Buffs did just that. They held ASU senior center Jordan Bachynski to only four points and three rebounds, while keeping him in foul trouble for much of the game.
Bachynski was the most hated man in the building. He clothes-lined Scott and gave him a concussion the last time these teams played in Boulder.
“Josh takes this matchup personally,” Buffs coach Tad Boyle said. “He hasn’t forgotten about it, and neither have I.”
As Colorado got its revenge, so did Scott. He dominated Bachynski on both ends of the court, drawing fouls and overpowering him for points and rebounds.
“Josh is such an underrated post defender,” Boyle said of Scott’s performance. “It was a clinic on post defense.”
Offense was scarce the entire game. ASU missed some open three-pointers in the first half, but the low scoring was primarily because of tenacious on-ball defense by both teams. Post players contained screens well, and guards didn’t leave much space on the perimeter.
Colorado freshman forward Dustin Thomas played the best six minutes of his life to open the game. He scored four of the Buffs’ first six points, swatted an ASU jump shot out of the air and drew three fouls on Sun Devils’ forwards.
Other than Thomas’ early energy, Colorado’s offense was non-existent in the first half. Booker and sophomore forward Xavier Johnson both shot only one of six from the field, but the Buffs’ defense was tenacious and they carried a 27-26 lead into the break.
The refs called a tight game, and several questionable calls sent Boyle and the fans into a frenzy. Boyle is normally emotional, but his jacket came off sooner and his feelings flowed freer than usual.
“I’m tired of losing to these guys,” he said. “I knew what was at stake. I wanted to make sure I was dialed in.”
“At the first media timeout, we could tell how intense coach was,” Booker said. “It was the most emotion I’ve seen out of him this year.”
The emotion seemed wasted as the Buffs started the second half lethargically. Carson keyed a 6-0 run to give ASU a 32-27 lead with 16:10 left before Boyle called a timeout to regroup. Following the timeout, Booker scored six straight points to reclaim the lead for Colorado before Scott provided the Buffs’ play of the game. He stole the ball from Carson, threw an outlet pass to Booker, then sprinted down the court and finished the fast break with a soaring two-handed dunk off Booker’s feed.
Colorado never trailed again. Carson made only one field goal after the run to start the second half. Booker and sophomore guard Xavier Talton shared guard duty on ASU’s diminutive star. Boyle had said earlier that Carson was the fastest point guard in the country, something Booker refuted after the game.
“I’m the fastest point guard in the country,” he said with a smile.
Maybe, maybe not. But he was the best point guard on the court tonight. With Colorado hanging onto a 55-50 lead with under a minute left, he took over. ASU inexplicably kept sending the 82 percent free-throw shooter to the line, and Booker was perfect. He scored eight of the Buffs’ final 12 points to put the game away.
The victory was Colorado’s 20th of the season. They’ve now won at least 20 games in all four of Tad Boyle’s seasons in Boulder; before he took over, they had only four 20-win seasons in their history.
Twenty wins is nice, but the next one could be the most important: The conference-leading University of Arizona Wildcats come to Boulder Saturday, Feb. 22. The eyes of the college basketball world will be on Colorado with the ESPN College Game Day, and if the Buffs play with the same emotion, the same toughness and the same great defense that they did against ASU, then another rowdy group of Buffs fans will leave the Coors Events Center happy.
Exhausted, but happy.
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Tommy Wood at Thomas.firstname.lastname@example.org.