Buffs Have Wright Stuff Down Stretch, Topple Bruins
BOULDER — Colorado's McKinley Wright IV made his Senior Night one to remember.
The Buffaloes' point guard scored 26 points and handed out six assists to lead CU to a 70-61 win Saturday over UCLA at the CU Events Center.
The win, CU's third in a row, improved the Buffs to 19-7 overall and 13-6 in Pac-12 play. The Bruins, who entered the game leading the Pac-12 standings, fell to 17-6, 13-4.
Evan Battey added 12 points and six rebounds for Colorado and Jeriah Horne chipped in 10.
Johnny Juzang led UCLA with 25 points.
The game featured 14 lead changes, with neither team able to gain control until the Buffs finally seized momentum over the final five minutes. Colorado erased an eight-point UCLA lead in the first half and trailed by one at intermission, 35-34, then came back again in the second half with a decisive 9-0 run to take charge and put the game away down the stretch.
The Buffs shot 46.3% for the game, but hit 54.5% in the second half (12-22) while holding the Bruins to 10-for-24 shooting after half.
Colorado actually lost the rebound battle, 31-26, but more than made up for that deficit by forcing 14 UCLA turnovers — six in the final six minutes of the game. Colorado finished with a 23-1 edge in points off turnovers.
"The guys have a belief in themselves and they have a belief in each other that is really special," Boyle said. "I've coached a long time and not every team has it. But this team really does love and believe in each other and they played like it tonight, offensively and defensively."
HOW IT HAPPENED: In a second half that featured nine lead changes, the Buffs delivered the final punch, putting together a 9-0 run late in the second half to take control for good.
After UCLA took a 57-55 lead on a Tyger Campbell 3-pointer, CU's Eli Parquet tied the game with a drive to the bucket. D'Shawn Schwartz then followed with another layup before Wright found an open Horne for a 3-pointer. Battey then added two free throws with 4:41 remaining to give the Buffs their biggest lead of the game to that point, 64-57.
Colorado's defense fueled the run. The Buffs forced five UCLA turnovers in the stretch, and collected stops on eight of the Bruins' final 10 possessions of the game. UCLA had just three field goals in the final seven minutes of the contest.
"We showed great discipline and great patience," Boyle said. "Our ability to close the game out by making plays … When we played them in LA back in early January (a 65-62 UCLA win), they made the plays down the stretch. Tonight we did that. Our guys played with great toughness, great belief and great heart."
Jaime Jaquez finally halted CU's run with a free throw with under three minutes to play to end a four-minute UCLA scoring drought. But Battey added two more free throws with 2:27 left to bump CU's lead to eight, 66-58, and the Buffs held the Bruins at bay down the stretch for the win.
"UCLA's a good basketball team," Boyle said. "You have to beat them. They don't beat themselves. We were dialed in down the stretch."
The Bruins threatened to take control late in the first half with a 6-0 run that included four straight free throws after a technical foul on the Buffs, giving UCLA a 32-24 lead.
But Wright had an answer, fueling an 8-0 run in which he scored six points, including a 3-pointer and free throw to tie the game at 32-32. UCLA managed to take a 35-34 lead into intermission, but Boyle said the comeback instilled confidence in his team.
"McKinley Wright stepped up," Boyle said. "McKinley was really good getting us back in that game. Once we did, I felt like our guys had belief. We knew it wouldn't be easy, we'd have to work, but we knew we could do it."
Wright, who delivered an emotional Senior Day speech after the game, has averaged nearly 21 points and eight assists per game over CU's last three victories. On a night when his parents were finally able to see him play for the first time this year, he made sure it would be one they would remember. Wright shot 10-for-16 from the floor and had five rebounds to go with his 26 points and six assists.
"It was fun — it's hard to put it into words," Wright said. "I just wanted to come out and be aggressive tonight. The last couple times we played UCLA I felt I wasn't aggressive enough and we lost. I put it in my mind that I'm going to take 14, 15 shots and if we lose, we lose. My teammates kept telling me, 'Keep going,' and they were rocking with me."
TURNING POINT: After falling behind 57-55 with just more than seven minutes to play, the Buffs put together a 9-0 run to take control.
WHAT IT MEANS: The win actually kept the Buffs' hopes of a league title alive, but it would take a number of circumstances all to fall in CU's favor over the next week. More importantly, it gave CU another Quad 1 win for the NET rankings and should also help their Kenpom rankings, both of which will be critical when the NCAA Selection Committee makes its seedings.
KEY STATISTICS: Colorado forced 14 UCLA turnovers — including six in the final six minutes — and converted them into 23 points … CU shot 54.5 percent from the floor in the second half (12-for-22) … The Buffs' bench outscored their UCLA counterparts 22-10, and CU had a 38-24 edge in points in the paint … CU also showed again why it is the nation's leading free throw shooting team, hitting 15 of 18 tries.
NEXT UP: The Buffs wrap up their regular season on Thursday against Arizona State at home (ESPN2 or ESPNU). Game time has not yet been announced.