What will be remembered most about Colorado’s rally at Washington State over the weekend was the way the Buffaloes started their comeback without McKinley Wright IV. And how Wright helped carry the Buffs home, shaking off a knee injury that kept him sidelined most of the first half.
Perhaps overlooked somewhat in CU’s 70-59 comeback win against the Cougars was how the Buffs’ defense turned things around against WSU’s two biggest offensive weapons, guards Isaac Bonton and Noah Williams.
Those two players were a big reason why the Cougars built an 18-point lead in the first half, combining to go 9-for-16 from the field with 13 points apiece. CU outscored WSU 40-22 after halftime while holding Bonton and Williams to a combined 11 points on a 5-for-15 mark, which included a meaningless layup by Bonton in the waning seconds.
Heading into the rematch Wednesday night at the CU Events Center (7 p.m., ESPNU), Williams ranks second in the Pac-12 Conference in 3-point percentage at .490 (24-for-49).
“Bonton and Noah Williams are two really, really talented offensive players that can torch us,” CU head coach Tad Boyle said. “And Efe Abogidi, a guy who did not have his best game against us. We can’t be taking for granted he’ll play like he did in Pullman, because I’m sure he’s a competitive kid. He wants to do what he’s capable of doing. So we’ve got our hands full if we’re not ready and we don’t have the emotional edge and the toughness edge.”
Boyle agreed with the notion that Saturday’s rally, which began with Wright on the bench, might be good for his club’s collective psyche going forward.
No doubt, any meaningful run by the Buffs in March will require Wright being on top of his game. However, clawing their way back from 18 points down a little more than eight minutes into the game — CU trimmed that lead to seven at halftime — with their best player on the bench was a step forward for the Buffs. In a 14-2 run that got CU back in the game, fourth-year junior Evan Battey scored six points and senior D’Shawn Schwartz added five. The other three points were provided by Wright’s replacement, redshirt freshman guard Keeshawn Barthelemy.
“I think sometimes we all look to McKinley, coaches included sometimes, like OK, he’s got to carry us or he’s got to be the guy,” Boyle said. “That’s a lot of pressure to put on anybody. And that kind of comes with the territory that McKinley’s in. But the bottom line is Colorado basketball is more than McKinley Wright. We’re going to need to be next year because we’re not going to have him.
“McKinley hasn’t been in foul trouble much. He was (last week) at Washington a little bit. He got a couple ticky-tack kind of fouls that went against him in the first half and he didn’t play the normal amount of minutes, and he didn’t have the aggressiveness defensively because of that foul trouble. When he’s not the normal McKinley, we’ve got to have other guys step up. And that was, I thought, a great sign and should be a big confidence-booster for all of our players.”
CU began Wednesday ranked 16th in the NET and 18th at KenPom.com…The Buffs head into Wednesday’s game still leading the nation in free throw percentage (.839)…In Pac-12 games, Washington State ranks third in defensive field goal percentage with a .318 mark. During Saturday’s win in Pullman, the Buffs went 6-for-14 (.429) on 3-pointers…Schwartz is tied for 10th all-time at CU in made 3-pointers, with his 129 matching Levin Knutson and Donnie Boyce. Schwartz needs one more to match, and two to surpass, Xavier Johnson…With seven blocked shots over the past two games, 6-foot-3 guard Eli Parquet has taken over the team lead with 16…Given a recent easing of public health restrictions in Santa Clara County in California, the Buffs Feb. 11 game at Stanford will be played at the Cardinal’s Maples Pavilion. Stanford has played all its home games in Santa Cruz so far this season but will return to Maples beginning Feb. 7 against Cal…On Wednesday morning, CU announced Saturday’s tipoff time against Utah has been changed from 7:30 p.m. to 12:30 p.m.