SALT LAKE CITY — Ultimately, McKinley Wright believed he wasn't quite ready to suit up for the Colorado Buffaloes.
After playing in each of the first 48 games of his CU career (with 47 starts) Wright's ironman streak came to an end Sunday at Utah. Despite returning to practice on Friday, the lingering soreness from the dislocated left shoulder Wright suffered during last week's home loss against Washington proved too problematic to hit the floor against the Utes.
Wright remained in a Buffs sweatsuit while watching his teammates struggle in a 78-69 loss that wasn't nearly as close as the final score might indicate.
"Number one, the decision is McKinley's whether to play or not to play," CU head coach Tad Boyle said. "It's not the doctor's. It's not the trainer's. It's not mine. It's his shoulder. It's his pain. It's his swelling. It's his discomfort, it's not mine. It's his confidence level in his shoulder. He went on Friday and he just didn't feel confident enough to be where he needs to help the team.
"We'll see where he's at on Monday and we'll figure out where he's at for next week's games. The decision to play or not to play is totally up to McKinley."
Without their leading scorer and floor general, the Buffs' offense struggled against the Utes — especially in the first half. CU shot just 30 percent in the opening frame and committed all 11 of their turnovers in the first half as Utah built a commanding 41-19 lead.
Oddly, the 11 turnovers counts as the second-fewest of the season by the turnover-prone Buffs. Yet it certainly didn't feel like an efficient game on the ball-handling front as Utah scored 14 points off those giveaways while running away from CU in the first half.
Though McKinley Wright sat, senior guard Namon Wright returned after missing the previous three games due to a foot injury. But the elder Wright played just six minutes and only contributed a turnover that led to a pair of Utah free throws. Boyle still expressed uncertainty on the severity of Namon Wright's foot issue, though the senior did practice on Friday and Saturday
"His deal is, if he can practice, he can play. If he can't practice, he can't play," Boyle said. "He got a shot out there. But there was nobody in a Buffs uniform tonight who was good enough in the first half to help us win. No one."
Gatling gets going
It wasn't nearly enough to help the Buffs recover from their woeful start, but junior guard Shane Gatling finally found his shooting touch in the second half.
After going 1-for-10 last week against Washington, Gatling started 0-for-10 against the Utes before heating up. He went 6-for-8 the rest of the way and finished with 21 points, by far his best total so far in the first 17 games of his CU career.
Gatling also went 6-for-6 at the free throw line and recorded three assists against one turnover in nearly 34 minutes.
"We were just making shots and getting stops on defense (in the second half). That's really all the game is," Gatling said. "That was our problem in the first half — we weren't making shots or getting stops on defense. The second half we started to come back, but we didn't have the time."
Former Utah and CU player Carlon Brown was in attendance, as was former Buffs player Tre'Shaun Fletcher.
Fletcher, who transferred to Toledo as a senior for the 2018-19 season, won the Mid-American Conference Player of the Year last spring but suffered a torn ACL in the league tournament. Nevertheless, he was signed by the Salt Lake Stars, the G-League affiliate of the Utah Jazz, and has been rehabilitating his knee in the professional ranks.
Despite scoring just two points, sophomore Tyler Bey grabbed 10 rebounds for his ninth double-digit rebounding effort of the season...Freshman Daylen Kountz went 6-for-9 and finished with a season-best 13 points...Redshirt freshman forward Evan Battey fouled out for the second consecutive game. He posted five points and two rebounds in 16-plus minutes...The Buffs were outrebounded (38-37) for the third time in five Pac-12 games...The Buffs suffered their lowest-scoring half of the season with just 19 points in the first half.