Buffs Rally In Final Minutes To Top Arizona
BOULDER — Evan Battey scored 21 points Saturday, including four free throws in the final 15 seconds, to help Colorado rally to an 82-79 win over Arizona at the CU Events Center.
CU improved to 14-5 overall and 8-4 in Pac-12 play while Arizona dropped to 13-6, 7-6.
McKinley Wright IV chipped in 17 points and six assists for the Buffs, including a basket with 37 seconds remaining in the game, and Jeriah Horne added 10.
Benedict Mathurin led Arizona with 22 points.
The Wildcats erased a nine-point CU halftime lead and led by four, 74-70, with 3:21 to play. But the Buffs finally tied the game at 76-76 after 3-pointers from Horne and Eli Parquet, then took the lead on Wright's floater in the lane with 37 seconds left, 78-76.
After Arizona tied the game again, Battey gave the Buffs the lead for good, 80-78, with two free throws with 15 seconds left. Arizona's Terrell Brown then hit one of two from the line to pull the Wildcats to within one before Battey — who suffered an ankle injury while being fouled — pushed the lead to three with two more from the charity stripe with 4.6 seconds on the clock for the game's final points.
The Buffs won despite losing the rebound battle, 29-22, thanks in large part to hitting 13 of 17 free throws and connecting on 11 of their 20 3-point tries.
The win was critical for the Buffs in multiple ways, beginning with the fact that it came on the heels of last week's disappointing loss to Utah.
"Hard-fought win, a gut-check win," head coach Tad Boyle said. "Given what we were coming off, to respond like that, the credit goes to our players. They played with great toughness and great energy and great belief. As down as we were after that Utah debacle, I'm so proud of our guys. I said I believed they would be resilient and they certainly were tonight."
HOW IT HAPPENED: Colorado built an early 19-2 lead and still had a nine-point cushion at the half, 41-32.
But after shooting just 33 percent from the floor in the first half, the Wildcats found their rhythm in the second half. Arizona shot 68 percent from the floor after intermission and finally took the lead, 53-52, with 10:48 to play in the game.
Colorado momentarily went back ahead, but Arizona again rallied and built its margin to four, 74-70, with just 3:21 left in the game.
The Buffs, though, refused to quit. Horne hit a 3-pointer with just under three minutes remaining before Wright found a wide-open Parquet on the wing with 1:11 to play. The CU junior swished the 3-pointer to tie the game at 76-76.
"That's what a great point guard does, he trusts his teammates," Boyle said, "and Eli was ready to knock down that shot."
Battey then delivered the defensive play of the game, getting a blocked shot on Arizona's James Akinjo that resulted in a held ball and gave CU possession. Wright followed with a floater in the lane to give CU a 78-76 lead.
"Evan Battey was a beast in the second half," Boyle said of his junior forward, who scored 15 of his 21 points after intermission.
Arizona then quickly tied it at 78 before Battey gave CU an 80-78 edge with 15 seconds remaining with a pair of free throws. The Wildcats then had a chance to tie it with 5.6 seconds remaining, but Terrell Brown made just one of two free throws and Colorado held on to an 80-79 lead.
Battey was then fouled on the ensuing inbounds play and suffered an ankle injury in the process. There was a question as to whether he would be able to even attempt the free shots, but CU's leading free throw shooter — he is now 46-for-51 for the season — limped to the line and made both with 4.6 seconds on the clock to bump CU's edge to 82-79.
Arizona then missed a last-second 3-point attempt to give Colorado the win.
"I tried to box out Rawley Klingsmith, our trainer," Boyle said about Battey's injury. "If he comes on the floor, Evan's got to come out of the game and they get to choose the free throw shooter. Evan's such a good free throw shooter, we wanted him to shoot them if he could. I'm glad he made that second one so we could get a sub in for him on defense."
Wright called the victory a "statement win," particularly in light of last week's loss to Utah.
"It's huge for us," he said. "I'm proud of my guys and the way we took their best shot in the second half. We bowed our backs and we kept fighting. We just stayed with it down the stretch and gutted out a win."
Colorado jumped out to a big early lead, scoring 19 straight points after Arizona opened with two free throws. D'Shawn Schwartz started the run with a pair of 3-pointers and CU led, 19-2, with 12:02 to go in the first half. Arizona did not tally a field goal until the 11:33 mark.
But the Buffs were plagued by foul troubles in the first half, as three starters — Schwartz, Dallas Walton and Evan Battey — plus key reserve Jeriah Horne were all whistled for two fouls and spent much of the half on the bench.
That gave Arizona a chance to whittle away at the lead, and it took a Parquet 3-pointer at the first-half buzzer to give CU a nine-point halftime edge, 38-32.
FAMILY IN THE CROWD: A slight relaxation of Boulder County restrictions allowed players to have some family in the stands for the first time at home this season. That included Battey's mother and sister.
"My mom loves watching me play," an emotional Battey said. "It just meant the world because she hasn't been able to watch me all year. There's no words to explain that feeling."
WALKER OUT: CU freshman standout Jabari Walker did not play because of a foot injury. Boyle said the injury is not season-ending, and that Walker could be back in about two weeks.
TURNING POINT: Arizona still led by three, 76-73, with just more than a minute to play. But when Wright found an open Parquet on the wing — and Parquet drained a 3-pointer to tie the game — momentum shifted back to Colorado's side and the Buffs came up with big plays on both ends of the floor in the final minute.
WHAT IT MEANS: The win moves the Buffs back into third place in the Pac-12 standings — and perhaps more importantly, gives them a key win in the NCAA's NET rankings. Arizona entered the game with a No. 44 rating. The Buffs were No. 19 heading into Saturday's game.
KEY STATISTICS: CU shot 56 percent from the floor (29-for-52), including 11-for-20 from 3-point range … The Buffs also hit 13 of 17 free throws.
NEXT UP: The Buffs wrap up their homestand Monday with a makeup game vs. Oregon State at 5 p.m. at the CU Events Center (Pac-12 Networks). The Buffs then hit the road for four games: Thursday at Stanford (5 p.m., ESPNU), Saturday at Cal (8 p.m., ESPNU), Feb. 18 at Oregon (9 p.m., ESPN2), and Feb. 20 at Oregon State (6 p.m., ESPN2/ESPNU).