Returning home from a successful road trip in California, the Colorado Buffaloes men’s basketball team looked to extend its win streak to four games, as CU welcomed the Arizona State Sun Devils to the CU Events Center on Wednesday night.
After taking down both UCLA and USC in Los Angeles in dramatic fashion last week, the Buffs (15-9, 6-6 Pac-12) rode their recent momentum back to Boulder against ASU (16-8, 7-5 Pac-12), besting the Sun Devils 77-73.
It was the Sun Devils who handed Colorado its largest margin of defeat this season, in the form of an 83-61 thrashing in Tempe on Jan. 5. It was the Buffaloes who reaped retribution on Wednesday, however.
“This game was very motivating, because last time we didn’t get to play how we wanted to play and we knew we were better than that,” said sophomore guard Tyler Bey. “We showed that tonight.”
It’s clear the Sun Devils don’t like Boulder very much. CU has beaten ASU the last five times they’ve visited the CU Events Center. The Sun Devils’ last win in Boulder dates all the way back to Feb. 16, 2013, a nail-biter of a game that ended on a buzzer-beating layup in overtime.
Colorado is now 8-1 all-time against Arizona State in Boulder. And the Buffaloes have won four games in a row.
“It’s perfect timing,” sophomore guard McKinley Wright IV said of the win streak. “…Especially after our tough start at the beginning of the season. It’s either win or go home, and we’ve come together to keep fighting.”
After going down by a couple of baskets to ASU right after the tipoff, the game eased into a trading of rebounds. That is until sophomore guard Tyler Bey evened the score with two back-to-back, crowd-raising alley-oops from fellow sophomore guard Wright IV.
What was a Buffs’ 6-0 run quickly turned into a 7-2 run by ASU, however, as the Sun Devils were heating up. Bey halted the Devils’ momentum, though, putting CU back on the board.
Colorado struggled early from the floor to begin the game. Through the first 10 minutes of action, the Buffs found themselves having just made a lowly 7-of-20 on field goals and were 0-for-6 from the three-point line.
That mattered very little to the score, however, as ASU struggled similarly, making only 6-of-16 from the paint. CU was down by just two, 16-14, with 9:59 left in the first half.
The Buffs began to battle back as freshman forward Evan Battey made two quick field goals to push Colorado ahead. But ASU’s Luguentz Dort drained eight points by himself in the span of roughly 90 seconds, hitting back-to-back threes and adding two free throws after a marginal personal foul was called on freshman guard Daylen Kountz.
Dort led the Sun Devils with 21 points on the evening.
But Battey was really feeling it. The big man made two more field goals to pull the Buffs within one, en route to helping the Buffs to an 11-9 run to finish the first half, where all was tied up at 32.
Battey landed awkwardly on his leg on his last field goal and went to the locker room with two minutes left in the half. While he did return to the bench to support his teammates in the second half, he did not return to the game.
“We’ve got so many pieces on this team,” Wright IV said. “[Head] coach [Tad Boyle] always stresses [that] we don’t have a go-to man. The go-to man is the open man. I believe in every one of these guys [and] these guys believe in me…we’re there for each other.”
Colorado finished the half shooting 14-of-32 (43.8 percent) from the floor, almost mirroring that of ASU’s 12-of-25 (48 percent). At halftime, three Buffs accounted for 27 of the team’s 32 total points. Bey led the charge for the Buffaloes with nine points and eight total rebounds. Wright IV and Battey were close behind with eight points apiece.
Colorado came out of the gate hot to start the second half. Junior forward Lucas Siewert hit his first points of the night on a three-pointer a little over a minute into the half to gain some early momentum.
The Sun Devils, however, had a different plan for the second half it seemed. ASU went on a quick 10-2 run after Siewert’s three-pointer, finding themselves up 42-37 on CU.
Things changed quickly for Colorado after that.
The Buffs went on a run of their own, notching nine points to the Sun Devils’ two, quickly retaking the lead, 46-44, six minutes into the second half. The building erupted in elation, forcing ASU to take a timeout.
The back-and-forth contest continued after the Sun Devils’ timeout. By the media timeout with 10 minutes remaining in the game, the score was knotted yet again, 51-51.
A 5-0 run by CU shortly thereafter gave the Buffs its largest lead of the game, and the Buffaloes never looked back.
Colorado closed out the remainder of the game in style, finishing the game just shy of 50 percent from the field goal, a marked improvement from how the Buffs began the game.
“What a hard-fought win by a group of guys that you can sense coming together as a group and galvanizing around each other,” said Boyle. “That was a good team we beat tonight…our guys just found a way. We played with great toughness [and] outrebounded a very good ASU team who crushed us on the boards back in Tempe when we saw them in January.”
It was a night of season-highs and firsts for the Buffs. Wright IV finished the game with 24 points, setting a new high for him this season, while Bey brought in 17 rebounds against ASU, setting a new career-high for him.
It’s also the first time the Buffaloes have won four straight games against Pac-12 teams since joining the conference in 2011.
“I think the biggest difference has been mental toughness,” said Wright IV. “Earlier in conference play, we [were only] playing one half. Now we’ve come together to win because we want to win…we’ve got to be a two-half team and I think we’ve been showcasing that over these past few games.”
The Buffs will look to keep it rolling when Arizona comes to town on Sunday, Feb. 18 at 6 p.m. MST.
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