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Buffaloes roll past Northern Colorado, McKinley Wright a delight

The Buffs won 81-45

NCAA Basketball: Northern Colorado at Colorado Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Sometimes these non-conference games can be a bit frustrating. Tad Boyle uses a weird starting lineup, they try out new offensive sets, and their lack of focus shows up on turnovers and defense. The Buffs win those 95% of the time, but it’s annoying to see.

Tonight was not like, not in the least. The Colorado Buffaloes blew the doors off the Northern Colorado Bears en route to a 81-45 victory.

The Buffs were coming off a tough 56-47 loss to Tennessee and looked pissed off. Even in an empty CU Events Center, they were focused on crushing their opponent. They started the game by bullying the Bears inside, scoring 28 of their 45 first half points inside the paint. Evan Battey led that effort with 12 points in the half, all of them coming at the paint or at the free throw line.

Northern Colorado didn’t have the talent to score against a CU defense that was in peak form. The Buffs crashed hard on any dribble penetration and had the active hands to force 12 turnovers. CU always plays better offense when they can grab the ball and go, so it wasn’t even a surprise to see them go on a 16-0 run to take a 34-11 lead.

Coming out of halftime with a 45-21 lead, the Buffs let off a bit while the Bears looked revitalized. This game was never in danger of becoming an actual contest, but the Buffs are still subject to sloppy offensive play and foul trouble.

Part of that is having so many young players easing into the rotation, playing heavy minutes in a blowout. But those bad habits will have to be nipped at some point — things like Keeshawn Barthelemy throwing alley-oops when simple passes are better, or Jabari Walker getting handsy when he doesn’t have to be.

The game ended with the reserves playing out the final four minutes. The Buffs were far and away the better team, earned the blowout victory and got some great exercise in front of three dozen staff and media.

Some quick thoughts on this game:

  • McKinley Wright has become a master of the point guard position. He’s so aggressive yet rarely makes mistakes, because he is just so skilled and so focused. He might be the best point guard in the country and he may be the best player on the court every time CU takes the floor. Tonight was another masterclass, as he had 19 points on 8/10 shooting, 7 assists and 5 rebounds. He’s now up 17.8 points per game on 63% shooting from the field and 50% from three.
  • Speaking of Kountz, the former Buff has found a great home at Northern Colorado. He’s their main initiator and they ask him to be aggressive off the bounce. He’s a high-level athlete and made some superb plays tonight — the best was a K.J. McDaniels-esque high-flying block on a Maddox Daniels layup. He still can’t shoot, turns it over quite a bit and isn’t as effective against equally athletic defenders. He wasn’t going to get many minutes for CU, so it’s good to see him so involved at UNC.
  • It’s so interesting watching Jeriah Horne. He looks like a 32-year-old NBA veteran. He doesn’t have the athleticism as anyone on the court, but he’s big, skilled and loves to beat people with savvy. That lack of quickness hurts on defense, but he’s a stabilizing presence at worst and a go-to scorer at best.
  • D’Shawn Schwartz might take some time to get back to full speed. This was his second game back from COVID-19 and he has scored just 3 points in 36 minutes. Some players have struggled returning from the virus, as it effects conditioning and causes some brain fog. It’s good to see him out, as long as he’s healthy, but we should be patient waiting for him to readjust.