Amidst the largest Buffs crowd in four years in the CU Events Center, the University of Colorado men’s basketball team kicked off 2020 with a defeat over the No. 4 Oregon Ducks 74-65 on Thursday.
“We needed this one,” said CU junior guard McKinley Wright. “We knew they had never won here so we wanted to keep it that way and we did a really good job at focusing on the game plan and personnel.”
The sold-out crowd of 10,770, the largest since a 2016 matchup against Arizona, stayed electric throughout the match.
“I would just say to anybody who wasn’t at the game tonight, you missed a heck of a game,” Boyle said.
As the game began, Colorado seemed rattled early as back to back three-point attempts by Wright and junior guard/forward D’Shawn Schwartz missed the net completely, uncharacteristic play from two of the Buffs’ better shooters.
“I would just say to anybody who wasn’t at the game tonight, you missed a heck of a game.”
Tad Boyle, head coach
Colorado had a tough time hitting deep shots early, but senior forward Lucas Siewert turned things around after an authoritative dunk with twelve minutes left in the half.
CU struggled to earn buckets in the first ten minutes of the game, shooting 4-of-11 from the field and 0-of-4 from downtown. Oregon didn’t look any better, shooting 4-of-12 from the field and 0-of-3 from beyond the arc. With just over ten minutes remaining in the first half, the Ducks led 10-8.
The Buffs’ offense eventually switched on and Colorado carried a 19-16 lead with seven minutes left in the half. Oregon senior guard Payton Pritchard can be credited with keeping the score close, owning eight of the Ducks 16 total points. Both starting guards, Pritchard and Wright came to play, battling for possession with aggression.
“(Pritchard) is a tough dude to guard,” Wright said. “He’s a guy who can shoot the ball from deep, pull-up mid-range and finish at the rim.”
With just under five minutes to play, Wright faked a shot under the basket, losing two defenders with the fake before placing in a layup. The home crowd erupted as the ball went through the hoop and CU pushed the lead to 24-16.
“(Wright) is a big-time player,” Schwartz said. “There is no other way to describe it, he thrives in big-time games like that, he feeds off the crowd’s energy and gets them going, gets us going. That is what a great point guard does.”
The first half ended with high octane for both squads as Colorado headed into the locker room with a 28-22 lead.
Three-point troubles plagued both teams throughout the first half, Oregon hit none of their seven first-half three-point attempts compared to CU who just hit a meager two of ten attempts. Colorado also managed to keep their turnovers in check in the first half with only three.
The Buffs’ defense shined in the second half, playing fast and making sure to be the first to the ball. Just a few minutes into the second half, Wright dove to full extension to break up a pass and knock the ball out of bounds, keeping it away from the Ducks’ offense and making the kind of plays that win games.
Schwartz hit a huge three to put the Buffs up to their biggest lead of the night, 38-26, with 15 minutes left. On the following play, CU earned the charge foul to get possession back, prompting the crowd to erupt once more to deafening levels.
“Our guys are really sharing the ball, they are looking for each other and this team really has a connection, on the floor and off, I think that is key,” Boyle said. “You can see our offense getting better and better over the last three to four games.”
Colorado further amped up the crowd when senior guard Shane Gatling lobbed a beautiful alley-oop to junior guard/forward Tyler Bey with 13 minutes left. CU maintained a 43-28 lead. But the Ducks soon cut the lead to seven points after going on a 7-0 run with just under twelve minutes left in the game.
With 8:30 left on the clock, CU still hung on to a tight four-point lead, 51-47. The Ducks almost brought it all the way back but failed to get over that four-point hump.
“There was still a lot of time left in the game and we knew that they weren’t going to go away,” Schwartz said. “We were just telling ourselves we need to lock in and get stops, that was the main thing we had to do.”
Colorado led 64-53 after an offensive surge allowed the Buffs to stay on top of the Ducks. CU went on a 7-0 run of their own while Oregon couldn’t put in a bucket for two straight minutes with 2:15 left on the clock.
Fouls and free throws characterized the last few minutes of the game as Oregon tried to claw back. Colorado ultimately won, 74-65.
Wright led the way for Colorado scoring with 21 points as well as five rebounds and eight assists. Bey also had performed with 15 points and 14 rebounds.
“I had been slacking on my rebounds the past few games and I wanted to pick it up,” Bey said. “Especially this game against Oregon, I had to go to the boards as much as I could.”
The Buffaloes will have a few days rest and then will be back at it against Oregon State on Sunday, Jan. 5 at the CU Events Center.
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