SPOKANE, Wash. — The Colorado men's basketball team takes a five-game winning streak into its Wednesday night date at Washington State (8 p.m. MT, Pac-12 Network).
It is the longest winning streak the Buffaloes have put together within the Pac-12 Conference since joining the league, and it is the program's longest winning streak within any conference in 13 years.
Still, in the sort of reality-check that should encourage Buffs fans, head coach Tad Boyle believes his team still hasn't quite put it all together.
"Our field goal percentage has been very good, so our efficiency has been very good," Boyle said. "But we're turning the ball over a little too much, and we're not shooting the ball well from three. And obviously that's a big part of what we want to do and what we need to do.
"I've said it — we haven't played to our potential yet. We've done it in stretches. UCLA was probably as close in terms of putting it all together. Because we did shoot the ball well that game from three. We guarded, had good defensive rebounding. It all gets back to those two things for us."
Other than the win at UCLA — the second win in the five-game winning streak the Buffs take into Pullman — CU still has struggled from 3-point range. Excluding the game against the Bruins, in which Shane Gatling's 7-for-9 mark from the 3-point arc led the Buffs to a 13-for-24 3-point mark, CU shot just .319 (23-for-72) on 3-pointers in the other four wins during the streak.
CU enters the Washington State contest with a .313 3-point percentage in Pac-12 games, which is just a slight fraction behind Cal for the worst in the league. The Buffs still are waiting for their two most talented 3-point shooters — Gatling and D'Shawn Schwartz — to heat up on a consistent basis. Since his big game at UCLA, Gatling has gone just 3-for-12, and excluding the UCLA game he went 4-for-20 in the other four games of the win streak.
Schwartz knocked down a big 3-pointer in the second half of Sunday's win against Arizona, capping a 15-3 run that put the Buffs in control, but his 2-for-11 mark over the past three games has dropped Schwartz's season percentage to .280. He shot .383 on 3-pointers last year as a freshman, albeit in a smaller role.
Wright's big shots
One CU player whose 3-point prowess is enjoying a slight uptick is sophomore point guard McKinley Wright.
When Wright left the Buffs' home loss against Washington on Jan. 12 with a left shoulder injury that sidelined him the following game as well, he sported a 3-point percentage of just .250 (10-for-40). In the eight games since his return, Wright has shot far more efficiently while picking his spots from long range, going 10-for-24 (.417). That run includes huge 3-pointers in the latter stages of each of the past two games, with Wright beating the shot clock to knock down an in-your-face three from the top of the key with about two minutes left against Arizona State, giving CU a seven-point lead. Wright did it again from the corner Sunday against Arizona, pushing the Buffs' lead to 10 points with four minutes remaining.
"You know he's not a great 3-point shooter, you see him get that look in a moment of great meaning, you just anticipate that it's going in," Arizona coach Sean Miller said after the Buffs topped the Wildcats 67-60. "That's who he is and Lucas Siewert hit one in front of their bench. I thought both of those shots really broke the game open from what it would have been but you get those opportunities, you have to deliver."
CU's past two visits to Washington State's Beasley Coliseum have been forgettable ones for the Buffs.
Despite a career-high 16 points from Dallas Walton and an eight-point lead with about 13 minutes remaining last year, the Buffs couldn't overcome 15 turnovers and a 3-for-18 night from 3-point range in a 73-69 loss. CU still led by six points with six minutes remaining but was outscored 19-9 the rest of the way.
In 2017, the Buffs capped their 0-7 start in Pac-12 play with a particularly maddening overtime loss at WSU. CU needed a tip-in from George King with 20 seconds left in regulation and two free throws from Derrick White with eight seconds left to force overtime, and White's jumper with just under two minutes remaining in the extra session gave CU a two-point lead. But WSU scored the game's final four points to come out with the win.
One more win by the Buffs would be the 17th in the regular season and invoke a $20,000 bonus for Boyle...Despite an 0-for-6 mark on 3-pointers in three games against WSU, Wright has shot .571 overall against the Cougars (16-for-28) while going 11-for-13 on free throws...The Buffs are 5-6 in true road games, compiling as many road wins as they did the past two seasons combined. CU hasn't won five road games since the 2013-14 season and hasn't won six since the 2003-04 season.