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Woelk: Buffs May Have Solidified An Identity With 20 Minutes In Pullman

Jan 26, 2021

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BOULDER — In the span of roughly 20 minutes last weekend, the Colorado Buffaloes salvaged what could have been a disastrous road trip.

It may prove to be a 20-minute stretch that will be remembered as a critical juncture in CU's season, a moment when the Buffaloes re-established an identity that was in danger of slipping away.

Less than nine minutes into the game at Washington State, the Buffs were down by 18 points (23-5) and their star point guard, McKinley Wright IV, had been helped to the bench with a knee injury.

This on the heels of a disappointing 84-80 loss at Washington, a game when the Buffs checked their defense at the door before it started.

But just when things looked dim in Pullman — OK, bleak — the Buffs bounced back.

First, they cut Washington State's lead down to seven at the half, getting some big moments — and big leadership — from junior forward Evan Battey. CU's emotional big man stepped into the void created by Wright's absence and virtually willed the Buffs back into the game.

Wright then returned in the second half and helped complete the comeback, sparking a stellar second-half effort that saw the Buffs finally take the lead nine minutes into the half and pull away down the stretch. By game's end the contest had all the appearance of a Colorado runaway victory.

Remember those 20 minutes. If this Tad Boyle team goes on to earn an NCAA Tournament berth and make a March run, that stretch in Pullman might be the one in which these Buffs cemented their identity.

It is, of course, still early. The Buffs (12-4 overall, 6-3 Pac-12) won't hit the halfway point of the conference season until Wednesday's home game against Washington State — the first of five home games in a 13-day stretch for Colorado.

But if the Buffaloes can take advantage of the upcoming homestand and carry some momentum into the home stretch of their Pac-12 schedule, they will be in good position to make it a March to remember.

Let's rewind back to the win at Washington State one more time.

Wright's return was no doubt the key storyline. Colorado fans watching from home weren't worried about the game, they were worried about the season, and what it would look like if CU's best player and leader found himself sidelined for any extended period of time.

But there was more — much more — to Colorado's comeback.

Battey had his central role, making sure during timeouts that the Buffs wouldn't go away quietly. His emotional effort had a major impact, as did his 16 points, five rebounds and physical presence inside. Battey is averaging 12.7 points and seven rebounds over CU's last six games and the Buffs are 5-1 in that stretch.

But overall, Colorado's comeback was a complete team effort. Resilience came to the forefront and manifested itself up and down the lineup.

Eli Parquet's line in the game? Zero points and two rebounds in 27 minutes — and never has a stat line been more misleading. Parquet was critical in the comeback with six blocks, a pair of assists and a defensive effort in the second half that helped limit Washington State to 9-for-27 shooting.

(The 6-foot-3 Parquet, by the way, is currently tied for sixth in the Pac-12 in blocked shots in conference games with 1.22 per game. Of the six players tied with him or ahead of him, four are 7-footers, one is 6-10 and one is 6-7. There is a case to be made for Parquet being the best shot-blocking guard in the nation.)

Meanwhile, D'Shawn Schwartz was an efficient 4-for-8 for 11 points and two rebounds. Freshman Jabari Walker had eight of his nine points in a decisive 14-0 CU run in the second half, while Wright had six points, a huge assist and two rebounds in the surge.

Senior Jeriah Horne had three assists, Keeshawn Barthelemy played some critical minutes at the point in Wright's absence and Dallas Walton returned to the starting lineup to add six points in 17 minutes.

In short, everybody contributed, and they did so in the face of adversity, a moment when folding up the tents could have easily been their next move.

Instead, they bowed their necks. The Buffs got tough — and that's an identity they can embrace.

Again, there's lots of basketball yet to be played. There will no doubt be more ups and downs this season. and we all know every team in America is always just a cotton swab away from shutting down.

Still, it's worth remembering what Boyle said in the wake of the disappointing loss at Washington. The Buffs, he said, had to learn from the loss. They had to come back, rededicate themselves to the program's fundamentals of defense and rebounding — and show some toughness in the process.

In 20 minutes in Pullman, the Buffs did just that. 

Now we will see if they can use that turnaround as a springboard for this season's stretch run — and some madness when the calendar flips to March.