What went right: The Buffs shot the ball extremely well posting a .532 field goal percentage while going 18-for-20 on free throws. CU also outrebounded ASU 39-26 and committed only one turnover in the second half.
What went wrong: Not much, though the Buffs likely would have preferred to hold ASU to a lower field goal percentage than .476.
Star of the game: McKinley Wright. The freshman guard was the quarterback of CU's balanced attack, finishing with 20 points, 11 assists, and eight rebounds.
What's next: The Buffs take on top-seeded Arizona in the quarterfinals on Thursday (1 p.m. MT, Pac-12 Network).
LAS VEGAS — When the pairings for the 2018 Pac-12 Conference tournament were finalized, Colorado men's basketball coach Tad Boyle pulled his team together and pointed out they had defeated each and every opponent in their half of the bracket this season.
So, even though that set of teams included an Arizona State squad that was ranked third in the nation a little more than two months ago, there was no reason to lack confidence once the Buffs hit the floor at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
CU did just that on Wednesday despite starting four freshmen in the most pressure-packed game of the season so far, using a stellar shooting performance and a dominant second-half run to pull away from the Sun Devils for a 97-85 victory.
The victory kept intact the Buffs' streak of seven first-round wins in seven appearances at the Pac-12 Conference tournament, and it set up a quarterfinal date against top-seeded Arizona on Thursday (1 p.m. MT, Pac-12 Network).
"We were very confident. We beat them at our place and we played fairly well at their place besides the turnovers," freshman guard McKinley Wright said. "We knew we could win this game. Coach stressed to us that we've beaten every team on our side of the bracket in conference play. We just have to go out there with high confidence, and we did that today."
It was an incredibly balanced effort by the Buffs, who received double-digit scoring efforts from six players for the first time this season in regulation (CU also had six double-digit scorers in a double-overtime win against South Dakota State in December).
Wright led the way by very nearly posting the fourth triple-double in program history, recording 20 points, 11 assists, and eight rebounds. In his first game in his hometown freshman Tyler Bey recorded his second double-double of the year, matching a season-high with 14 points while grabbing 10 rebounds.
Senior Dom Collier played a key role in one of CU's top shooting performances of the season, going 3-for-4 on 3-pointers and 8-for-10 at the free throw line before finishing with 17 points. Lucas Siewert went 4-for-4 in the first half and finished with 12 points, as did senior George King. And finally, freshman D'Shawn Schwartz played an integral part of the Buffs' second-half surge with a pair of 3-pointers. He finished with 10 points.
"You need that. Maybe one or two guys can carry you through a game, but they can't carry you through a tournament," Boyle said. "The strength of this team is the depth and the number of weapons that we have. The freshmen, they're growing up before our eyes. To do it on this stage in a big-time game against a big-time opponent...it's a great win."
When the Buffs lost at ASU on Jan. 27, the Sun Devils dominated down the stretch by outscoring CU 35-18 over the final 11-plus minutes. The Buffs flipped that script on Wednesday, erasing a four-point ASU lead with just under 12 minutes remaining by scoring 10 consecutive points in what became a 15-1 CU run. Freshmen accounted for all 10 of those run-opening points, and the Buffs ultimately finished with a .532 shooting percentage while going 13-for-21 on 3-pointers. The Buffs also finished 18-for-20 on free throws, doing all of that damage in the second half.
For ASU, the frustrations of a rapid and precipitous decline that suddenly has the Sun Devils stressing over their NCAA Tournament fate boiled over in the waning seconds, when an electrifying but probably unnecessary Wright-to-Bey alley-oop dunk with seven seconds left rankled Sun Devils senior Tra Holder, who shoved Bey to the floor.
CU junior Namon Wright was ejected for leaving the bench during the ensuing shoving match, but as he did not participate in the fracas he remains eligible for Thursday's date against Arizona. Boyle was the biggest casualty, as his abrupt rush off the bench to break things up resulted in what is believed to be a torn calf muscle.
No doubt, his team's big-time performance mitigated the pain.
"We're in March now. They know our game plans. They can probably write it up on the board before the game," Boyle said. "It's about being loose and not being afraid of the moment and playing for each other. We talked about being the aggressors both offensively and defensively, and I thought we were."
COLORADO 97, ARIZONA ST. 85
ARIZONA ST. (20-11)
Mitchell 2-5 0-0 4, White 3-3 1-4 7, Justice 4-8 2-4 14, Evans 4-13 2-3 14, Holder 6-14 0-1 14, Lawrence 0-1 0-0 0, Lake 5-6 2-2 12, Shibel 0-1 0-0 0, Martin 6-12 5-7 20. Totals 30-63 12-21 85.
Walton 2-5 0-0 4, King 4-9 2-2 12, M.Wright 8-14 2-2 20, Nikolic 1-2 0-0 3, Bey 5-11 4-4 14, Siewert 4-6 2-2 12, N.Wright 2-4 0-0 5, Collier 3-4 8-10 17, Schwartz 4-7 0-0 10. Totals 33-62 18-20 97.
Halftime — Colorado 41-37. 3-point goals — Arizona St. 13-32 (Justice 4-7, Evans 4-9, Martin 3-6, Holder 2-7, Shibel 0-1, Mitchell 0-2), Colorado 13-21 (Collier 3-4, Siewert 2-3, Schwartz 2-3, M.Wright 2-3, King 2-4, N.Wright 1-2, Nikolic 1-2). Fouled out — Lake. Rebounds — Arizona St. 25 (Lake 8), Colorado 39 (Bey 10). Assists — Arizona St. 15 (Justice 6), Colorado 20 (M.Wright 11). Total fouls — Arizona St. 18, Colorado 20. Technicals — Lake, King.