Draining a season-high 26 points, senior guard McKinley Wright IV created one more memory in his penultimate home game at the University of Colorado. His senior night onslaught was too much for UCLA to handle on Saturday as the Buffs knocked off the first place team in the Pac-12, 70-61.
While Saturday was a reminder of the finitude of a career, the Buffs performance hinted that there will be plenty more basketball left for CU’s seven seniors. With the win, Colorado improved to 19-7 overall and 13-6 in the Pac-12 to extend its highest Pac-12 win total and tie the 1961-62 Big Eight Conference championship team for the most conference wins. Despite the win, Colorado remained in fourth place in the Pac-12 but is now just one game behind UCLA for first place. CU will need considerable help to take the top spot, however, with Oregon and USC still above them.
As was appropriate on senior night, Wright opened the scoring with a three-pointer. Besides Wright, Colorado couldn’t get much to fall early on. The Buffs opened the affair shooting 3-of-14 from the field but enjoyed a 9-7 lead with 13 minutes left in the half.
A three from freshman forward Tristan da Silva gave CU a 14-13 lead before the Bruins and guard Johnny Juzang began to heat up. Juzang scored six points in seven minutes to help boost UCLA to a 32-24 lead. Good teams bounce back and Colorado did with a quick 8-0 run sparked by a layup from senior guard Maddox Daniels and six Wright points.
At the half, Colorado may have been fortunate to only be trailing 35-34. UCLA was shooting 50% and no Buffalo besides Wright, who had seven, made more than one field goal. He ended the period with 17 points, half of CU’s total 34.
“I was just trying to stay aggressive,” Wright said. “I felt confident in my matchup that I had with whoever was guarding me at the point so I made a couple of shots early and saw the ball go through the hoop and the basket was getting a little bigger for me.”
Head coach Tad Boyle said it was CU’s zero turnovers in the first half that played a big role in keeping the Buffs in the game.
When it mattered most, Wright’s teammates finally joined the scoring party. Colorado’s late run began with just under seven minutes remaining and UCLA leading 57-55. Junior guard Eli Parquet and senior guard D’Shawn Schwartz hit back-to-back layups before senior forward Jeriah Horne hit a dagger of a three that prompted a UCLA timeout.
It was CU’s defense, however, that shined the most down the stretch as the Bruins were held without a field goal for nearly seven minutes. UCLA relinquished six turnovers during the same time frame and Colorado took advantage for a 15-1 run to put the Bruins away.
“Our guys played with great toughness, great belief and great heart, and that’s what you have to do against UCLA,” Boyle said. “UCLA is a good basketball team. You have to beat them. They don’t beat themselves, we were dialed in there down the stretch.”
For Wright, he credited his teammates for helping him find that extra juice in crunch time.
“To be honest with you, it’s not even me, my teammates tell me to go,” Wright said. “They’re like ‘okay ‘Kin it’s that time.’ And every time it’s crunch time D’Shawn (Schwartz) is the one that always says ‘yeah it’s that time 2-5.’”
Junior forward Evan Battey (12) and Horne (10) were the only other Buffaloes with double-digit scoring. Battey hit eight of his nine free throw attempts to maintain CU’s nation-leading average of 83%.
After the game, Colorado honored its seven seniors including forward’s Dallas Walton and Alexander Strating, walk-on guard Aidan McQuade and the aforementioned Wright, Horne, Schwartz and Daniels. As a small gathering of friends and family watched from the stands, each senior gave a quick speech to conclude what was an emotional night at the CU Events Center.
“To have seven guys that are so articulate and well-spoken and just wonderful human beings to see them have success (was great),” Boyle said. “UCLA came in here last year for those that don’t remember and ruined our senior night. That’s the risk that you have of having it after the game, but I wanted these guys to get a chance to thank their teammates, their families, and their fans personally.”
Colorado’s last home hoorah of the season will be on Thursday at 7 p.m. MST against Arizona State.
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