If handing out game balls was a basketball tradition on par with how it is in football, there would be plenty to go around from the Colorado Buffaloes' big win Wednesday night against No. 9 Arizona.
Senior forward Josh Scott led the way, carrying the Buffs down the stretch before finishing with a season-high 26 points. Wesley Gordon once again gladly took care of the dirty work, recording a game-high 12 rebounds, a career-high six assists and providing solid defense that led to a critical Arizona turnover with 13 seconds remaining.
George King was productive along the wing, hitting 3-of-6 3-pointers and finishing with 14 points and seven rebounds. But the unsung hero of the night? That would be guard Josh Fortune, who enjoyed his best game in a month.
"Josh Fortune is a good player, and he's a good shooter," CU coach Tad Boyle said. "He's a guy we want to get going offensively. Josh is a hell of a player. There's a lot of guys who maybe haven't been playing well that played well (Wednesday)."
On Jan. 31, CU completed a two-game home sweep of Stanford and Cal in which Fortune connected on 9-of-15 shots overall and 6-of-8 from 3-point range, scoring a season-high 21 points against the Cardinal.
February, however, had not been kind to Fortune until Wednesday night. In the Buffs' previous six games before topping Arizona, Fortune had gone 18-for-62 (.290) from the floor with a 5-for-28 mark on 3-pointers.
More disturbingly, Fortune had developed an unhealthy knack for turnovers, recording 17 in the first four games of that stretch before seemingly turning a corner last week in Los Angeles (two turnovers in 21 minutes at USC; none in 14 minutes at UCLA).
Those struggles were forgotten against Arizona, as Fortune's shot was sharp and his game efficient. The junior guard went 5-for-8 from the field and hit shots at critical junctures, draining a 3-pointer that gave the Buffs an 11-point lead with 12 ½ minutes to go and interrupting Scott's dominance down the stretch with a driving layup with just under eight minutes remaining. Perhaps most importantly, Fortune balanced his 13 points with just one turnover in 25 minutes.
"I don't think it all shows up in the stats, but Josh Fortune is one of those guys that really I thought brought something to the table and made some big shots for us," Boyle said. "He played with poise, confidence. That's one of the things we talked about down the stretch is be aggressive, be confident. And I thought we did that."
The Buffs took Thursday off to rest and get refocused on avoiding a letdown against Arizona State in the home finale on Sunday. With the marquee win over the Wildcats, there is little debate any longer if CU is in the NCAA tournament picture, as the Buffs began Thursday ranked No. 29 in the NCAA's RPI while moving up to 66 (from 72) in the KenPom Ratings.
That of course, could change with an ugly loss against Arizona State — a fate the Buffs already are looking to avoid.
"Just need to continue to do what we try to do every day," King said. "Defend and rebound. Play inside-out offensively. Take good shots."