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Colorado opens season with win over Arizona State

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The Buffs went to China and come home with a win.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: JAN 27 Colorado at Arizona State Photo by Adam Bow/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

In a season of expectations, the Colorado Buffaloes are off to a strong start. The Buffs traveled to Shanghai, China and picked up the 81-71 win over Pac-12 rival Arizona State.

From the jump, Colorado was the better team. The Buffs return every contributor from their 2018-19 NIT run, whereas the Sun Devils have to replace their two best players from last season. The difference in experience and continuity was obvious early on as the Buffs played excellent team defense and moved the ball selflessly to create open looks.

Despite stars McKinley Wright and Tyler Bey struggling to shoot, Colorado took control with a 15-3 run in the middle of the first half. During that run, role players D’Shawn Schwartz, Lucas Siewert and newcomer Maddox Daniels all made multiple shots. Schwartz was particularly effective in the first half as the junior forward had 13 points on 5/8 shooting in the half.

Colorado was leading 25-17 when Wright came alive. He’s a pass-first player, but in his previous two seasons, he has shown that he can get a bucket whenever he wants. With the diminutive Remy Martin on him, he consistently put the ball on the floor and got to the rim, and some of his finishes were nothing short of spectacular.

In addition to Wright heating up and role players hitting open looks, Colorado out-rebounded ASU 29-17 in the half despite Bey and Evan Battey playing only 15 minutes combined due to foul trouble. That’s where Arizona State really missed Romello White and Taeshon Cherry, both athletic forwards who were suspended for the game.

After leading 42-29 at half, Colorado extended that lead to 17 before their shots stopping falling. Arizona State is very quick and loves to run, so once CU started missing shots — mostly layups and open threes — the Devils were able to push the pace and create the shots they want. Combined with some sloppy turnovers by Colorado, Remy Martin powered ASU to a 20-6 run that changed the complexion of the game.

Once the game was nearly tied, Bobby Hurley ramped up his team’s defensive pressure and the Buffs struggled to adjust. With their team speed and quickness, it felt like Arizona State had 6 defenders on the floor. They trapped CU in the backcourt on the full court press, disrupted passes on the perimeter, and swarmed to the ball whenever the Buffs worked it inside. That strategy worked as the game went from a 17-point deficit to tied in fewer than 10 minutes.

Colorado didn’t adjust to the press so much as McKinley Wright simply beat it. Wright decided that the best chance CU had was with him commandeering the offense. He was right, as he always is, and he started scoring via pull-up jumpers and contested layups. Wright ended up with 17 points, 7 rebounds and 5 assists, and even that undersells his impact.

Wright didn’t stave off Arizona State alone. Tyler Bey was missing throughout the majority of the game, but he stepped up when it mattered. If this game had a point of inflection, it was when CU led 74-69, ASU had a fast break, Battey stole the pass, then Wright found Bey on an alley-oop. That play — a four-point swing at a critical juncture — was the beginning of Bey’s strong finish. He got more involved on offense, gobbled up rebounds, and hit clutch free throws. In a bad game, he finished with 15 points, 12 rebounds and 3 steals.

After their excellent start to the game, Colorado did struggle, but it’s important that they were resilient and held off a strong Arizona State team. They earned the 10-point win and it should help them with immediate confidence and future resume-building.

Next up, Colorado takes on San Diego in their home opener on Nov. 16.