Despite losing a sizeable early 17-point lead, a deja vu disaster was avoided in another gut-churning but eventually fruitful finish for the University of Colorado men’s basketball team. In what has been a major theme in recent games, Colorado struggled in the second half but gutted out the final stretch to defeat the Arizona Wildcats on Saturday, 82-79.
Exactly a week prior, the same Buffaloes blew a 19-point lead to Utah. But with a chance at redemption in front of about 100 friends and family at the CU Events Center, the Buffs didn’t disappoint.
Junior forward Evan Battey has long been an emotional leader for CU and he confirmed that down the stretch. With Colorado leading 80-79 with just over five seconds remaining in the game, Battey was fouled while attempting to defend an inbound pass and injured his left ankle falling to the ground. He grimaced in pain but mustered up enough strength to nail both his free throw opportunities and give his Buffaloes the ultimate 82-79 lead.
“My teammates were behind me and they really gave me strength to shoot those through,” Battey said. “I shouldn’t even really walk. I tip my hat off to my guys and my teammates who are so special. I love them.”
Battey’s excellence wasn’t limited to his memorable trip to the free throw line as he scored a season-high 21 points on 7-of-9 shooting.
It wasn’t a perfect performance by any means, but the win now puts Colorado in sole possession of third place in the Pac-12 at 8-4.
“We found a way to win tonight’s game,” said head coach Tad Boyle. “Given what we were coming off, and to respond like that, the credit goes to our players. They played with great toughness, great energy, and a great belief. As down as we were after that Utah debacle, I am so proud of our guys.”
Throughout the first half, CU’s depth was tested. Breakout freshman forward Jabari Walker was out with a leg injury and both Battey and senior forward Dallas Walton lingered into foul trouble early. Freshman forward Tristan da Silva, who finished with six points, and senior forward Alexander Strating held down the fort in the paint.
On the last play of the first half, junior guard Eli Parquet hit a deep buzzer-beater three to give Colorado a 41-32 lead. Despite the momentum inducing basket, the Buffs’ defense failed to show up in the second half. Arizona bounced back from shooting 33.3% in the first half to shoot an astounding 68% in the final 20 minutes. Their hot shooting culminated in a 53-52 lead with nine minutes remaining.
“In the second half, we (couldn’t) stop them,” Boyle said. “They shot almost 70%. But we found enough offense. I thought our guys really trusted each other.”
The Wildcats’ lead held until a Parquet three-pointer tied the game at 76. Senior guard McKinley Wright IV dropped a floater soon after to give Colorado a two-point lead with 36 seconds remaining. Wright’s 17 points joined Battey and senior forward Jeriah Horne (10) as the only Buffs in double-figures.
After the game, Wright harped on the importance of rebounding. Arizona snagged 11 offensive rebounds to Colorado’s five, turning into several second chance opportunities.
“We have to do a better job of boxing out,” Wright said. “And guards including myself, we have to help our bigs who have their hands full and help them rebound. Those are the things we have to clean up for Monday.”
Colorado won’t have much time to relish its victory as they host Oregon State on Monday at 5 p.m. MST in a COVID-19 protocol rescheduled game.
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