LOS ANGELES — As McKinley Wright goes, so go the Colorado Buffaloes.
For much of the season, that dynamic has worked well enough for the CU men's basketball team, whose up-and-down season so far has been tempered by the hope for the future provided by Wright and his fellow freshmen.
However, on the few occasions Wright has struggled, so too have the Buffs. It was a trait on full display Wednesday night during CU's loss at USC, and heading into a Saturday night date at UCLA Wright admitted he still is learning the finer nuances of finding a way to help contribute to his team even on nights when his shot is awry.
"I struggled obviously (at USC). I didn't shoot well and turned it over," Wright said. "But coach does a good job of keeping my confidence high, and he tells me to just move on to the next game and worry about the next opponent.
"It's not something that I'm used to. In high school there weren't really any of those (bad shooting) nights. As a freshman playing at this level, it's something I have to learn. I have to help this team in other ways, whether it's defense or rebounding or whatever the case may be."
With one of the top guards in the Pac-12 Conference, senior Jordan McLaughlin, shadowing Wright much of the night at USC, he failed to reach 10 points for just the second time in 17 games this season.
The 70-58 defeat followed a trend for the Buffs in being unable to find other ways to be productive offensively when their freshman point guard is struggling. Wright went 2-for-9 against the Trojans and also shot a combined 8-for-27 two weeks ago as the Buffs opened league play with losses at Oregon State and Oregon. He returned home to go 13-for-26 in CU's upset wins at home against Arizona State and Arizona.
"The last thing I'm worried about is McKinley Wright responding," CU head coach Tad Boyle said. "I know what he's made of. I know what's inside him. McKinley is going to be fine. Again, he's a freshman. He's going to have good games and bad games. We have got to figure out a way, when he is not having a great game, to still figure out how to win a game. We haven't done that yet. McKinley Wright has not had a subpar game yet where we still win the game. We're very dependent on him, and that's a lot of pressure to put on a freshman."
As steady as Wright has been as a rookie point guard, he is quick to concede there remains plenty of room for improvement. Prior to knocking down his only 3-point attempt at USC, Wright had gone 1-for-13 from long range through CU's first four league games. And after posting six assists with no turnovers in a Dec. 22 loss against Iowa, Wright committed 25 turnovers in five games heading into Saturday's battle at UCLA.
"I love McKinley Wright and what he brings to this team," Boyle said. "Again, it's just the growing pains. McKinley Wright can help this team in other ways than scoring. He can get other guys involved. He can rebound. He can defend. He's going to draw the starting assignment on (UCLA's Aaron) Holiday. It's a great challenge for him defensively."