Riding a four-game Pac-12 Conference win streak, an unprecedented achievement in head coach Tad Boyle’s tenure at CU, the Colorado Buffaloes men’s basketball team made it five in a row Sunday night by taking down Sean Miller’s tanking Arizona Wildcats at home, 67-60.
The Wildcats did not lead once in the game, and the Buffaloes had the advantage for all but 1 minute and 32 seconds, during which time the game was tied.
The Buffs (16-9, 7-6 Pac-12) handed U of A its seventh straight conference loss while sliding up a notch into fifth place in league standings.
“I thought we played with great toughness tonight,” said Boyle. “I’ve said this everytime we play these guys – you have to go out and beat Arizona because they’re not going to beat themselves.”
Colorado got off to about as good as a start as could be desired, as the Buffaloes made nine of their first 10 field goals.
Sophomore guard Tyler Bey scored the Buffs’ first four points on back-to-back layups. The Wildcats did not manage their first basket until the 16:03 mark of the first half, at which point Colorado led, 6-2. Bey missed a double-double by one point, ending the night with nine points and 10 rebounds.
The Buffaloes’ sharpshooting early in the first half allowed them to build a significant lead over Arizona, as two free throws by junior guard Shane Gatling put CU up, 15-5, with 12:57 before halftime.
For roughly the next six minutes, CU maintained a comfortable lead, never allowing Arizona to come within eight points. However, as the first half began to wind down, the Buffaloes started losing momentum like air bursting out of a punctured balloon.
Up 31-22 with 6:17 left before halftime, the Buffs managed just a lone field goal from then until the buzzer sounded. Colorado survived on free throws during that span and although the Wildcats ate away at their deficit, after 20 minutes of play, the Buffaloes maintained a 34-28 lead, having made 60 percent of their first half shots.
Junior forward Lucas Siewert led CU at halftime with eight points, while freshman forward Evan Battey and Bey both contributed six apiece.
On the night, four Buffs scored in the double digits. Siewert led CU with 15 points.
Arizona threatened to turn the tables on Colorado as the second half began. The Wildcats outscored CU in the first five minutes of play, 10-2, tying the game at 36 with 15:35 to go. It was the first time the game had been tied since the opening seconds of the game in which a basket had yet to be made.
Early in the second half, Colorado was all but incapable of penetrating into the paint while on offense. Stout defense by the ‘Cats routinely had CU struggling to improvise as the shot clock dwinded.
“I don’t think we had as good of [ball] movement as we had in the beginning of the game,” Siewert said. “…We can’t afford that so I’m glad we got ourselves back in the game. We’ve just got to play through that stuff.”
Luckily for the Buffaloes, at a critical moment sophomore guard McKinley Wright IV turned things up a notch, making three layups and an and-1 foul shot in 59 seconds. And just like that, with 14:12 left in the game, the Buffaloes gained some much-needed breathing room as they led, 43-36.
Wright IV finished with 14 points on 5-of-10 shooting from the floor.
“There [aren’t] enough adjectives to describe McKinley Wright and how good and important he is for us,” Boyle said. “He just makes big-time shots and he makes big-time plays when they need to be made. They came back and tied it up and he…[took] over.”
The remainder of the second half consisted of Arizona doing everything possible to keep its head above water. Although the Wildcats certainly kept things interesting and managed to answer almost every time the Buffaloes took a lead of double digits, CU maintained a lead of at least seven points throughout the final 12 minutes of play.
Earlier this week, Boyle alluded to the physical challenges that guarding UA’s 6-foot-10 center Chase Jeter presented. Jeter ultimately scored 10 points and led the ‘Cats with eight rebounds, but for the most part, the Buffaloes kept him in check.
On the night, the Buffs made 24-of-43 shots, good for a 56 percent make rate. Colorado outrebounded U of A, 31-24 and won the battle in the paint, scoring 32 points to Arizona’s 28 in that department.
“[Arizona] relies on points in the paint and [is] a good offensive rebounding team,” Boyle said. “The fact that we outrebounded them is a positive thing…I can’t say enough about our guys’ resolve and their toughness.”
Colorado next faces off against Washington State on Wednesday, Feb. 20 in Pullman. The Buffs and Cougars tip off at 8 p.m. MST.
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