Buffs Hold Off WSU Rally To Collect Home Win
BOULDER — Tad Boyle's Colorado Buffaloes built a big early lead Wednesday, then fought off a second-half Washington State rally to collect a 70-58 win at the CU Events Center.
The victory in the first of five games in a row at home for CU improved the Buffs to 13-4 overall and 7-3 in Pac-12 play while WSU dropped to 9-7, 2-7.
The Buffs had three players in double figures, led by McKinley Wright IV with 16 points, including a perfect 11-for-11 from the free throw line. Jeriah Horne added 15 and Evan Battey chipped in 14. Wright also had seven assists in the game, including the 600th of his career, while Horne and Battey led CU with five rebounds each.
Washington State, playing without leading scorer Isaac Bonton, was led by Noah Williams with 15 points.
Colorado built an 18-point lead in the first half on the heels of a 20-0 run, extended the cushion to 19 and still led by 15 at the half, 39-24. But WSU forged a second-half comeback, thanks to some cold shooting and turnovers from the Buffs, and closed the gap to six, 49-43, with 9:01 still to play.
But the Buffs regrouped down the stretch to slowly build their margin back to double digits and hold on for the win.
Colorado finished with 13 turnovers — after not having any in the first 12 minutes of the game — that led to 18 WSU points. The Buffs were also outrebounded, 29-27, and shot just 32 percent from the floor in the second half.
But the nation's best free throw shooting team did hit 20 of 23 tries from the line, including 13 of 15 in the final eight minutes.
"A win is a win, you can't ever complain about that," Boyle said. "But I think anybody who watched that game tonight and saw how we played, especially towards the end of the first half offensively and then in the second half offensively, understands that Colorado's got to play better than that."
The win did keep the Buffs in third place in the Pac-12 standings, but they were not happy with their performance.
"We're not satisfied," Wright said. "We're competing for a Pac-12 championship and tonight's effort isn't going to cut it. We're going to watch film tomorrow, get better in practice tomorrow, prepare for Utah on Saturday. We know we're a lot better than we showcased tonight. If we want to contend for a Pac-12 championship and make a deep run in the tournament, we can't have performances like tonight."
HOW IT HAPPENED: The Buffs had their chances to blow the game open on several different occasions, but each time proved to be their own worst enemy with some untimely turnovers and defensive lapses.
After WSU took an early 11-9 lead, Colorado put together a 20-0 run to assume control. Wright started the surge with a four-point play, Keeshawn Barthelemy added a 3-pointer, Jabari Walker had six straight points and Horne capped the run with a trey to give CU a 29-11 lead.
But just when the Buffs appeared to be on the verge of blowing the game open, they allowed a 7-0 WSU run, fueled by three Colorado turnovers. The Buff pushed their margin back to 19 late in the half, but then had three empty possessions — including a shot clock violation — to end the period with a 39-24 lead.
"That last offensive possession at the end of the half was indicative of where the game was going offensively for us in terms of our lack of execution, lack of toughness, lack of communication and lack of decision making," Boyle said. "We have to be better than that offensively."
Colorado was 7-for-8 from 3-point range in the first half, with six different Buffs connecting from long range. Horne was 4-for-4 from the floor for Colorado, including 2-for-2 from beyond the arc.
CU pushed its lead back to 18 early in the second half, only to see WSU put together a 10-1 run and cut the lead to single digits. A rash of turnovers led to some easy Cougar buckets and with 9:01 still to play, Washington State cut Colorado's lead to just six, 49-43.
"We had a casualness about us that we don't usually play with," Battey said. "We struggled to get stops, we struggled to shoot the ball and score the ball. We have to play to our standards and play how we are expected to play. We didn't do that."
But, just when the Cougars appeared to have momentum on their bench, the Buffaloes responded with a 7-0 surge to regain control. D'Shawn Schwartz started the run with a 3-pointer that ended a five-minute CU scoring drought and the Buffs kept the Cougars at bay down the stretch.
Wright hit 10 free throws over the final eight minutes and Horne had five points in the final five minutes to help the Buffs hold onto the lead.
TURNING POINT: Colorado's 20-0 run in the first half turned a two-point deficit into an 18-point CU lead and while WSU managed to close the gap to six with just under nine minutes left in the game, that was as close as the Cougars could come.
WHAT IT MEANS: While it wasn't pretty, it was still an important win for the Buffs in their first game of a critical five-game homestand. If CU is going to compete for a conference title, the Buffs will need to protect their home floor in this stretch.
KEY STATISTICS: CU was 20-for-23 from the free throw line … The Buffs forced 15 turnovers and converted them into 22 points … Colorado shot 10-for-17 from 3-point range.
QUOTEWORTHY: "I have to do a better job. Tonight is as much on me as it is our team. I'm just glad it didn't cost us a game and a win. We did win. We have to move on. We have to get better. That's the biggest thing, because this time of year there's two kinds of teams. There are teams that are getting better, enjoying the process, and having fun, and there's teams that are getting worse, can't wait for the season to end, and trying to figure out what they can do for spring break given COVID." — CU head coach Tad Boyle
NEXT UP: The Buffs continue their five-game homestand Saturday with a 12:30 p.m. game against Utah. That will be followed by three games in five days at the Events Center: Feb. 4 against Arizona State (9 p.m.), Feb. 6 against Arizona (6 p.m.) and Feb. 8 against Oregon State (5 p.m.).