LOS ANGELES — The season was in danger of bottoming out when McKinley Wright, playing his role as team leader to perfection, called his teammates together in an emotional locker room meeting before the Colorado Buffaloes took on Oregon Feb. 2.

At that point, the Buffs had gone 3-8 since a stirring comeback win at New Mexico on Dec. 11, and a season billed as one in which the youthful club would make meaningful strides was in danger of spiraling out of control.

Wright, himself ailing with an injured left shoulder that will require surgery after the season, gathered his teammates. Staying together was the only way to get back on track.

"Before we played against Oregon in the locker room, I huddled everyone up and told everybody to look to their left and right and tell everybody they love each other," Wright said. "We love each other and we've been rolling ever since then."

Since then, the Buffs have won three in a row — a run that continued Saturday night with an emotional 69-65 win at USC that clinched only the second Pac-12 two-game road sweep for CU since joining the league. All of the sudden the Buffs are squarely in the thick of the pack in the Pac-12 Conference and are one team showing clear signs of improvement as the season progresses. His leadership aside, resurgent play from Wright also has played a critical factor.


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Wright missed one game due to the shoulder injury, being forced to watch as the Buffs quickly fell behind by 22 points in a loss at Utah Jan. 20. In the six games since his return, Wright has been a markedly more efficient player.

"My teammates just told me to be more aggressive," Wright said. "They told me for us to win, I've got to be able to make plays. Every one of them, they all told me I had to play better. I didn't take it personal. I promised them that I'd be playing better. I think I've been showcasing it, but I still could do more in taking care of the ball a little better."

Prior to his one-game absence, Wright was shooting a solid .510 from the floor but had struggled to a .250 mark on 3-pointers. In the past six games, Wright has shot .527 overall (29-for-55) while going 8-for-19 on 3-pointers (.421).

Of much more importance to the Buffs has been Wright's improved ball-handling. While his assist average has dipped slightly — it was 5.3 per game before missing the Utah game and is 4.2 since — his turnover rate has dropped more precipitously, going from 3.4 turnovers a game in the season's first 16 games to just 2.0 over the past six games. His assist-to-turnover rate stood at just 1.56 before missing the Utah game but he has compiled a 2.08 mark since his return.

At crunch time at USC, the ball was in Wright's hands, and he responded with a pair of late driving layups, the last of which provided the go-ahead tally for the Buffs with 1 minute, 36 seconds remaining. He also turned in what surely will be one of the highlights of the season when he took advantage of USC's inattention during an in-bounds play to pass the ball off a USC player's back to earn an easy layup en route to a team-leading 20 points.

"Big time play," CU head coach Tad Boyle said. "I turned to our staff and I said, 'That's why I like coaching that kid.' He makes those kinds of plays. That wasn't something that was called. That was McKinley Wright being McKinley Wright being the astute, smart player that he is. He makes plays. He's a special one.

"I do think that game he sat out at Utah, McKinley is a smart player. I've always said this since he's been on campus that he's a self-corrector. So when he makes mistakes, he corrects those things himself. He's been much, much more efficient since he's come back."

Pat Rooney: rooneyp@dailycamera.com or twitter.com/prooney07