Win or lose, by now Colorado basketball fans know there is no questioning the grit of McKinley Wright IV.
Wright played the second half of his sophomore season with a torn labrum in his left shoulder that later required surgery. More recently, Wright was forced to the sideline early in a win at Washington State on Jan. 23 after a previously bruised knee got smashed into the court in a scramble for a loose ball. Wright returned after halftime to help put the finishing touches on a comeback win.
So when Wright told CU coach Tad Boyle that maybe he was good for the night with more than 10 minutes still remaining in the Buffs’ rout of Oregon State on Monday, it wasn’t as if Wright was backing out of a fight. This fight was over, and Wright is wise enough to take stock of the big picture.
Following Monday’s 78-49 dismantling of Oregon State, the Buffs will play their next four scheduled games on the road. That includes two this week, beginning Thursday at Stanford (5 p.m. MT, ESPNU). Wright’s low-minute night, along with a low-minute night for Evan Battey, offered a timely respite before the Buffs embark on a difficult stretch.
“I went down to McKinley, 12 minutes to go, asked him how he was feeling, ‘Do you want to go?’” Boyle said. “He was like, ‘I’ll take the rest of the night off.’ And Evan, that ankle is just now where we need it to be. Certainly both those guys are banged up. We need them healthy as we head down the stretch here.”
Wright’s court time of 25 minutes, 19 seconds was his second-fewest of the season. Battey, who turned his ankle just 48 hours earlier in the waning moments of the win against Arizona, played for a season-least 11:54. CU’s junior forward picked up two fouls by the 13:27 mark of the first half and didn’t return until after halftime. Starters D’Shawn Schwartz and Eli Parquet also played less than their average minutes.
Battey can thank freshman Tristan da Silva for giving him a chance to rest that ankle. Da Silva more than picked up the slack, going 6-for-6 with 15 points and four rebounds.
Following Monday’s win, the Buffs (15-5, 9-4 Pac-12) moved to No. 15 in the NET and No. 14 at KenPom.com heading into Tuesday’s games around the nation. CU also begins the week in sole possession of third-place in the Pac-12, trailing USC and UCLA (both 9-2 in Pac-12) by two in the loss column.
Rather than going through a traditional practice on Tuesday, Boyle said he planned to make it a lighter day of film work and individual workouts. And it likely meant extra treatment for Battey’s ankle and Wright’s knee.
“Because we have three games this week, we’re going to take (Tuesday) off and use it as an individual improvement day,” Boyle said. “Some guys will get in and shoot jump shots. Some guys will get a workout in. Some guys will shoot free throws. Some guys will get treatment. Whatever it is they need to get better, that’s what (Tuesday) is for.
“My goal is to keep this team fresh mentally, physically, spiritually and emotionally as we head through February. Because this has been a long year. And a trying year on everybody. So we’re just going to try to stay fresh and take care of business.”