Jeremy Papasso / Staff Photographer
Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer
As he has done after almost every game of his career with the Colorado basketball team, Dom Collier made sure to find his mother, Lori, and give her a big hug on Thursday night.
Getting to Lori took a bit longer than usual, however.
Following a 90-81 overtime upset of No. 4 Arizona State, Collier conducted a couple of postgame interviews, shook hands with several Buffs fans and spent a few minutes with a young CU fan celebrating a birthday who wanted to meet the senior point guard.
All-in-all, a great night for Collier, who came off the bench to score 11 points and dish out six assists — his best single-game total in nearly two years — for the Buffs. More important than the numbers was the poise and leadership Collier provided to the Buffs in a game in which they fell behind 11-0 before rallying to beat one of the country’s top teams.
“When Dom and I checked into the game, he had the eye of the tiger and was letting it fly and that gave me confidence,” junior guard Namon Wright said. “That’s exactly what we need.”
A highly-touted recruit from Denver East High School in the class of 2014, Collier is nearing the end of his career. It hasn’t been the type of career many expected of him, but, as he displayed against ASU, his experience and leadership will be important to the Buffs (9-6, 1-2 Pac-12) down the stretch.
Loaded with youth and inexperience, the Buffs need a spark from the veteran, and he recognizes that.
“I’ve had an OK career, but I just want to make the most of it with the last 15 or so games that we have left,” Collier said.
On Sunday, the Buffs lost at Oregon 77-62, and were getting crushed early. During a timeout, the normally reserved Collier displayed some emotion with his team. Then, he went out and sparked an 11-3 run that, for a brief time, got the Buffs back in the game.
Collier followed that up with a performance against ASU that one of the best of his career.
A starter for a good chunk of his career, Collier has been coming off the bench of late, as true freshman McKinley Wright has displayed star qualities.
CU trailed 11-0 when Collier and four others replaced the starting five. Within about five minutes of checking in, Collier had an assist, a layup and a 3-pointer that all helped the Buffs pull within 18-10.
From that point, the Buffs played with confidence and ultimately got what was arguably the biggest win of Collier’s career.
“It was really fun,” Collier said. “It’s obviously my last year, so this really meant a lot to me, because we don’t have many more ranked opponents on our schedule.
“I know I haven’t played like I know how to play leading up to this game. Today, I just wanted to make an emphasis to myself to go out there and have fun and play free.”
Collier was motivated in part by McKinley Wright.
“I told Dom this earlier today before we played that he’s meant so much to me,” Wright said. “He’s been a role model.”
That meant a lot to Collier, whose family has grown close to the Wrights.
“I really took that to heart,” Collier said of Wright’s words. “I have to come out and play better because I know the young guys are looking up to me.”
It’s not just the young players on the team that are motivating Collier. As he nears the end of his career, he’s motivated by the desire to finish strong for the Buffs, for the fans, and for his family that has been there every step of the way.
“It means a lot to us, to my husband and I,” Lori said of being able to watch her son play. “We absolutely love every game. For him to be at home, for us to watch every game, it means so much to us.”
It’ll mean even more if Collier can continue to play like he did against ASU and lead the Buffs — picked ninth in the Pac-12 — to where many don’t think they can go.
“He’s our senior, he’s our leader,” McKinley Wright said. “Having him play like this is great for us — for today and in the long run.”