Style points never are necessary, and in March they become completely irrelevant.
And on Thursday the Buffaloes did something they hope turns into the norm as March moves forward by simply finding a way to get the job done.
After a first half that was downright ugly at times, the 24th-ranked Buffs slowly overpowered Arizona State during the second half of the regular-season finale, pulling away down the stretch for an emotional 75-61 win at the CU Events Center.
The victory gives the Buffs four wins in a row to complete the regular season one year after they struggled to five consecutive losses to finish the 2019-20 season. The win also all but locked up the third seed for the Buffs at the Pac-12 Conference tournament next week, as they will pass the loser of Saturday’s matchup between USC and UCLA.
However, if coronavirus issues force the postponement of that Los Angeles showdown, the Buffs will remain the fourth seed.
The Buffs improved to 20-7 overall and 14-6 in the Pac-12. It is the 12th 20-win season in program history and the eighth under head coach Tad Boyle. Though the CU played the longest conference schedule in program history with the Pac-12’s inaugural 20-game slate, the 14 conference wins also is a team record.
“It was a special, special win on a special night,” Boyle said. “This was the last time this team is ever going to play in this building together for the rest of their lives forever. That’s a long, long time. You’ve got to relish the moments.
“We were not very good in the first half. We were soft with the ball, we were soft passing the ball, we were soft finishing. We were lucky to be up one at halftime. But our guys really responded in the second half.”
Playing his final game at the CU Events Center, senior point guard McKinley Wright IV stole the show after halftime. Wright went 10-for-17 from the field before finishing with 24 points, four rebounds, and four assists. Wright recorded four points and an assist during a key 10-1 run just inside the 10-minute mark in the second half to help the Buffs blow the game open down the stretch.
It was a miserable first half for the Buffs, who committed turnovers on their first four possessions, and at one point sported a 3-for-10 mark with seven turnovers. But CU’s defense was on-point the entire night, allowing the Buffs to scrap their way to a 31-30 lead at the break. ASU guard Remy Martin entered the game with a team record-tying streak of eight consecutive 20-point games, but he was held to a 1-for-9 mark and just six points, his second-lowest output of the season.
While CU committed 10 turnovers in the first half and 13 in the game, they forced 11 turnovers from the Sun Devils. The Buffs held Arizona State to 30 percent from the floor in the second half and a .345 mark for the game. It tied the Sun Devils’ third-lowest shooting percentage of the season.
“I’m just happy with the win,” said Wright, who posted the 24th 20-point game of his career. “Year in and year out, I feel like I’ve been overlooked. It’s nothing new to me. I’ve grown up this way. It happened in middle schools. It happened in high school. It happened in college. I’ve always played with a chip on my shoulder. They’ve always picked other guards over me and Remy was one of them. Tonight just speaks for itself.”
What went right: CU held ASU to a .345 mark from the floor and outrebounded the Sun Devils 44-28.
What went wrong: The Buffs committed turnovers on their first four possessions and recorded seven in the game’s first 10 minutes. CU had only three turnovers in the second half.
Star of the game: McKinley Wright IV. The Buffs’ senior point guard has the look of a player ready to lead his team into March. Wright went 10-for-17 from the field and posted a game-high 24 points. He also recorded four assists and four rebounds.
What’s next: The Buffs will be idle for a week before opening the Pac-12 Conference tournament in the quarterfinals on March 11.
No. 24 Colorado 75, Arizona St. 61
ARIZONA ST. (10-12, 7-9 Pac-12)
Graham 2-7 2-2 6, Lawrence 4-11 2-2 10, Martin 1-9 4-4 6, Verge 3-12 0-0 8, Woods 4-8 5-5 15, House 5-7 0-1 13, Bagley 0-3 0-0 0, Osten 1-1 1-2 3. Totals 20-58 14-16 61.
COLORADO (20-7, 14-6)
Battey 2-5 4-4 8, Walton 0-0 3-4 3, Parquet 0-3 0-0 0, Wright 10-17 3-3 24, Schwartz 3-7 4-4 11, Horne 4-10 3-4 12, Walker 4-7 0-0 9, Daniels 1-3 0-0 2, Barthelemy 2-5 0-0 6, da Silva 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 26-57 17-19 75.
Halftime — Colorado 31-30. 3-point goals — Arizona St. 7-19 (House 3-5, Verge 2-4, Woods 2-5, Martin 0-2, Bagley 0-3), Colorado 6-19 (Barthelemy 2-4, Schwartz 1-2, Walker 1-2, Horne 1-4, Wright 1-4, Parquet 0-1, Daniels 0-2). Rebounds — Arizona St. 28 (Graham, Bagley 7), Colorado 44 (Horne 12). Assists — Arizona St. 9 (House 3), Colorado 12 (Wright 4). Total fouls — Arizona St. 18, Colorado 15.