Dallas Walton brought the eye of the tiger to the Coors Events Center on Saturday.
Charged with battling a pair of Arizona 7-footers — 7-foot-1 freshman Deandre Ayton and 7-foot senior Dusan Ristic — who soon will be reaping big paychecks for their basketball skills, Walton more than embraced the challenge against the 14th-ranked Wildcats.
The redshirt freshman from Arvada was one of several heroes for the Buffs in their 80-77 upset victory. Walton enjoyed the biggest game of his young career, going 7-for-7 from the field before finishing with a season-best 15 points along with two blocked shots.
"I can't describe in words how fired up I was," Walton said. "The opportunity to go against two pros isn't something you can say every day. That's kind of what we all signed up for when we joined. Going against this type of competition is great."
Walton scored seven points, including a 3-pointer, during a 12-1 run in the first half that gave the Buffs the lead for good. His final bucket came with the shot clock winding down and gave CU a nine-point lead with just under two minutes remaining. At one point Walton also bested Ayton with a little half-hook off the glass in a one-on-one situation down low.
While Walton has made monumental strides in a relatively short amount of time, head coach Tad Boyle still wants to see his 7-footer get more assertive on the glass. Walton finished with just one rebound on Saturday after recording at least five in each of the previous three games.
"He's growing up before our eyes," Boyle said. "There was an intensity in his eyes. I saw it before the game. I saw it at halftime. I saw it on the court. He was ready to play.
"My challenge to Dallas is...we need you to rebound the basketball both defensively and offensively. That's a continuing challenge I'm going to give him his entire career. Because I believe Dallas Walton can be a steady double-double guy with the way he runs, with his skill. He can obviously step out and shoot it a little bit. He's got great touch, great confidence. But I want double-doubles out of him."
Walton was the first CU player to go 7-for-7 from the field since Xavier Johnson against Oregon on March 7, 2013.
The Buffs' first back-to-back wins against ranked foes in six years will likely put a dent in the university's checkbook.
Per Pac-12 rules, an institution can be fined $25,000 when its fans storm the court or field following a game. The second offense results in a $50,000 fine. Given the Buffs students in attendance rushed the Coors Events Center floor following the big wins against No. 4 Arizona State and the 14th-ranked Wildcats, CU could be facing a total fine of $75,000.
By this point fans of Pac-12 basketball are well aware that the staffs of two of the league's premier programs, Arizona and USC, were among the four prominent Division I assistant coaches arrested in September as part of a still-ongoing FBI corruption probe.
Asked if that situation made beating one of those teams a little more satisfying on Saturday, Boyle didn't mince words.
"Absolutely," Boyle said. "I've got great respect for (Arizona's) Sean Miller and the kind of coach he is. They recruit very, very well. USC has recruited very, very well. The two most talented teams in our (league) from top to bottom are USC and Arizona. So hell yes there's extra satisfaction. Got great respect for Sean. Hell of a coach. Got great respect for (USC's) Andy Enfield. But to answer the question, hell yes."
Schwartz comes through
Perhaps overlooked somewhat in the myriad heroes for CU on Saturday was the performance of freshman guard D'Shawn Schwartz.
The Colorado Springs native struggled in his first two Pac-12 games but came through in a big way against Arizona, scoring a season-high 10 points while going 3-for-4 from the field. Schwartz went 2-for-3 on 3-pointers and 2-for-2 at the free throw line.
When Arizona cut what had been a 20-point CU lead to three points midway through the second half, Schwartz stemmed the tide by knocking down his second 3-pointer. His two free throws moments later gave CU an eight-point lead with 8 minutes, 53 seconds remaining.
Schwartz credited a shooting session with assistant Mike Rohn on Friday for helping to turn around the 0-for-4 performance he suffered through during CU's first two league games.
"Me and coach Rohn went through a good shooting workout yesterday and he just told me to stay ready," Schwartz said.
Arizona coach Sean Miller had at least a little insider information on CU freshman guard McKinley Wright.
Wright originally signed last year with Miller's brother, Archie Miller, at Dayton. When Archie Miller moved to Indiana he wanted to bring Wright along with him but didn't have room for the dynamic point guard. Wright eventually landed at CU, and he turned in his third double-double of the season with 16 points and 10 assists Saturday against Arizona.
"McKinley Wright is one of the most impressive guards that we have faced," Sean Miller said. "My brother recruited him and he must be one of the dumbest coaches in college basketball to not have him as part of his program. That's to Colorado's benefit he has made such a big difference in their team."
Junior Namon Wright made his first start since Dec. 2 at Colorado State. Namon Wright has shot 20-for-35 over the past three games while averaging six rebounds...Saturday's attendance of 8,519 was the largest of the season in eight home games for CU...Though he scored just five points, senior George King led the Buffs with 11 rebounds. It was the 11th double-digit rebounding game of his career, yet the first that did not result in a double-double...Dom Collier's two assists gave him 200 for his career, becoming the 25th CU player to reach that total...Arizona star Allonzo Trier began the week averaging 21.3 points per game. He scored a total of just 15 in the Wildcats' road split against Utah and CU, going 5-for-14 in those games.