What went right: The Buffaloes played solid defense, holding UNC to a 6-for-37 mark on 3-pointers, and used a big turnaround on the glass to finish with a 45-38 rebounding advantage.
What went wrong: CU struggled at the free throw line (11-for-25) and finished with more turnovers (13) than assists (12).
Star of the game: George King. The senior guard was sent to the bench quickly after picking up two fouls in the game's first four minutes. Yet he sparked CU's second-half surge and finished with team-leading totals of 12 points and nine rebounds.
What's next: The Buffs welcome former CU assistant Rodney Billups and his University of Denver team on Tuesday at the Coors Events Center (7 p.m., Pac-12 Mountain).
It was a matchup that easily could have spelled trouble for the Colorado Buffaloes.
The CU men's basketball team hosted Northern Colorado for its 2017-18 season opener Friday night, and the makeup of the opposing rosters could not have been more varied.
The Bears arrived at the Coors Events Center led by the sort of experienced seniors unlikely to flinch at the challenge of facing a Pac-12 Conference team on the road. The Buffs, meanwhile, started freshman McKinley Wright at point guard and used a rotation that saw six players log their first minutes in a CU uniform.
Nevertheless, it was CU that played with poise down the stretch, using a 12-0 run in the latter stages of the second half to pull away for a 66-51 victory. It was CU's 10th consecutive victorious home opener.
"I thought our players really responded to the challenge, and the challenges that we gave them with game-planning as well as effort and focus," CU head coach Tad Boyle said. "So it was a good win. And I'll make this prediction, and if I'm wrong I'll eat my words — Northern Colorado will not score 51 points or less the rest of the season. They'll be in the eighties and nineties a lot of nights because they're a talented offensive team."
Although the Buffs led 35-24 at halftime, CU senior George King had been a non-factor due to a pair of fouls in the game's first four minutes. The Bears also had been dominating the game on the glass, at one point holding an eight-rebound advantage early in the second half.
Northern Colorado trailed the entire night but pulled to within one point midway through the second half on a 3-pointer by Andre Spight. King and fellow senior Tory Miller-Stewart helped the Buffs take over from there, combining to score eight of CU's points during its game-breaking 12-0 run while sparking an abrupt turnaround on the glass that saw the Buffs ultimately finish with a 45-38 rebounding advantage.
"(Boyle) emphasized (rebounding) the whole week through," Miller-Stewart said. "We got the job done. We outrebounded them by seven. If we would've done that the first half we would've dominated the glass. But we got the job done. 1-0."
CU made just 4 of 15 3-point attempts in the first half but made a concerted effort to get better shots after halftime, hoisting just two more 3-pointers after the break. The Buffs' solid defensive effort — they held the Bears to a .323 field goal percentage with a 6-for-37 mark on 3-pointers — helped CU overcome a frustrating 11-for-25 effort at the free throw line.
Despite his quick exit in the first half King still nearly finished with a double-double, producing team-leading totals of 12 points and nine rebounds. Miller-Stewart posted 11 points and five rebounds while Wright showcased the grit and nifty passing skills that are expected to be a huge boon to the Buffs' backcourt, finishing with 10 points, four rebounds, three assists, and two blocked shots.
"Our emphasis before the game was to keep the ball in front of you, contest all shots, don't foul, box out and rebound," King said. "I think we did a great job of keeping the ball in front of us and playing all shots high. Maybe not so much boxing out and rebounding, or not fouling. But they're not used to shooting with hands in their face, so we were able to do that. I'm proud of my team for doing that."
COLORADO 66, N. COLORADO 51
N. COLORADO (0-1)
Morgan 0-3 0-1 0, A.Johnson 3-15 1-1 7, Spight 8-26 0-1 19, Radebaugh 3-6 2-2 11, Davis 4-5 2-5 10, Vercellino 0-1 0-0 0, Edwards 1-1 0-0 2, Glotta 0-2 0-0 0, Sanders 1-3 0-1 2, Loose 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 20-62 5-11 51.
Miller-Stewart 3-5 5-8 11, Collier 1-6 0-1 2, M.Wright 5-14 0-2 10, King 4-7 3-6 12, N.Wright 3-7 0-0 7, Siewert 2-4 0-2 5, Walton 0-0 0-0 0, Nikolic 1-2 0-0 3, Brown 3-5 0-2 7, Schwartz 1-2 1-2 3, Bey 2-5 2-2 6. Totals 25-57 11-25 66.
Halftime — Colorado 35-24. 3-point goals — N. Colorado 6-37 (Radebaugh 3-6, Spight 3-16, Vercellino 0-1, Sanders 0-1, Davis 0-1, Glotta 0-2, A.Johnson 0-10), Colorado 5-17 (Nikolic 1-1, Siewert 1-1, King 1-2, Brown 1-2, N.Wright 1-3, Bey 0-2, Collier 0-3, M.Wright 0-3). Fouled out — Morgan. Rebounds — N. Colorado 34 (Vercellino, Spight 8), Colorado 39 (King 9). Assists — N. Colorado 4 (Davis 2), Colorado 12 (Collier, M.Wright 3). Total fouls_N. Colorado 22, Colorado 19. Technicals — Radebaugh. A — 7,740 (11,064).