PULLMAN, Wash. — For two days, the Colorado Buffaloes focused on correcting the defensive woes that led to a loss Wednesday night at Washington.
Against Washington State on Saturday night, the Buffs came out and promptly played even shoddier defense than they did in Seattle.
Things soon went from bad to worse, as the Buffs fell into an 18-point hole moments after senior point guard McKinley Wright IV suffered what appeared to be a significant knee injury. Eventually, though, CU’s defense returned to form and Wright returned to the floor, as the Buffs shackled the Cougars throughout the second half to post a 70-59 win on Saturday night that salvaged a split of the two-game run through Washington.
The Cougars made nine of their first 10 shots in the game’s first 9 minutes but went just 13-for-42 (.310) the rest of the way. The effort tied for the fifth-largest deficit in a comeback win in CU Buffs history.
“This was a character win for our team and our program,” CU head coach Tad Boyle said. “It was definitely gut-check time there in the first half, especially when McKinley went out. I thought he was out of the game, quite frankly. Then I saw him in the locker room at halftime kind of bouncing around and (trainer) Rawley (Klingsmith) told me when we took the floor he was going to try to go. I said the only way I’m playing him is if he’s not limping. And he wasn’t limping.”
Washington State’s hot start felt like it might be insurmountable after Wright dove for a loose ball and remained on the floor in obvious pain at the 13 minute, 54 second mark of the first half.
After the game, Wright said he suffered a bruised left knee on a similar play last week against Stanford, and on Saturday one of the Cougars rolled over Wright’s leg and aggravated the injury. Wright limped off and did not return for the remainder of the first half, and minutes later the Buffs trailed 23-5.
Yet in what could be a promising sign for the Buffs, CU began its rally while its leader was sidelined. A 3-pointer by D’Shawn Schwartz capped a 14-2 run that pulled CU within six points, and WSU’s lead was just seven at halftime.
“When (Wright) goes down, I felt like my guys trust in me enough to look to me to provide some sort of energy, some effort,” said CU forward Evan Battey, who scored 12 of his 16 points in the first half. “I said, ‘Match me,’ with my intensity, my fight, and we can climb back into it. I don’t credit myself. I credit my teammates. They raised their level of intensity to us getting back into the game. All the credit goes to the guys.”
Wright returned in the second half and seemed his normal self, eventually finishing with 12 points, seven rebounds, and five assists.
CU opened the second half with an 8-2 run to pull within a point, and the Buffs finally took their first lead on a Schwartz basket in the lane with 11:27 remaining. The Buffs held Washington State without a field goal for a stretch of 7:29 during the second half, and a 14-0 run by CU secured its fourth win in a true road game this season.
“Our bench was very huge. Keeshawn (Barthelemy) played big minutes when I went down,” Wright said. “At halftime we just talked about getting back to our defensive mindset, that killer instinct on defense. In the second half we had five kills (three straight stops) and that’s what we try to base our program on.”
What went right: After trailing by 18 in the first half, CU outscored WSU by 29 points the rest of the way while holding the Cougars to a .333 shooting percentage in the second half.
What went wrong: WSU hit nine of its first 10 shots and outrebounded the Buffs 31-30.
Star of the game: Evan Battey. The fourth-year junior kept the Buffs focused when McKinley Wright was injured in the first half, scoring 12 of his 16 points before the break. It was Battey’s fifth double-digit scoring effort in the past six games, and he also grabbed five rebounds.
What’s next: The Buffs will have an immediate rematch against WSU on Wednesday at the CU Events Center (7 p.m., ESPNU).
Colorado 70, Washington St. 59
COLORADO (12-4, 6-3 Pac-12)
Battey 6-11 4-4 16, Walton 3-4 0-0 6, Parquet 0-2 0-0 0, Wright 5-9 2-2 12, Schwartz 4-8 2-3 11, Daniels 2-6 0-0 6, Horne 1-4 2-2 5, Walker 3-3 2-4 9, Barthelemy 2-4 0-0 5, Clifford 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 26-52 12-15 70.
WASHINGTON ST. (9-6, 2-6 Pac-12)
Jakimovski 1-6 0-0 2, Abogidi 1-4 2-2 5, Jackson 4-6 2-3 10, Bonton 8-20 4-5 21, Williams 6-11 0-0 16, Rodman 1-3 0-0 2, Markovetskyy 0-0 0-0 0, Rapp 1-1 0-0 3, Miller 0-0 0-0 0, Fitzgerald-Warren 0-1 0-0 0, Kunc 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 22-52 8-10 59.
Halftime — Washington St. 37-30. 3-point goals — Colorado 6-14 (Daniels 2-5, Barthelemy 1-1, Walker 1-1, Horne 1-2, Schwartz 1-3, Wright 0-2), Washington St. 7-16 (Williams 4-6, Rapp 1-1, Abogidi 1-2, Bonton 1-3, Rodman 0-1, Jakimovski 0-3). Rebounds — Colorado 30 (Wright 7), Washington St. 31 (Jakimovski 7). Assists — Colorado 15 (Wright 5), Washington St. 9 (Bonton 3). Total fouls — Colorado 13, Washington St. 18.