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Colorado squeaks by Washington State

The Buffs were terrible in the 2nd half, but get the win

NCAA Basketball: Washington State at Colorado Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

It would have been easy for the Colorado Buffs to overlook the Washington State Cougars in this game. The Buffs just beat them in Pullman by 11 points, and that was after a nightmare first half that included an 18-point deficit and a McKinley Wright injury. They could have acted like this was an easy win, but instead they dropkicked their opponent — well, at least in the first half.

With Wright leading the charge looking healthy after that injury scare, the Buffs’ offense was a buzz saw. It didn’t matter if it was against zone or man defense — CU moved the ball patiently, worked their way into open looks and were ruthless finishing those chances. Combined with their always great team defense, the Buffs had themselves a 20-0 run to take complete control just 12 minutes into the game.

In taking a 39-24 halftime lead, the Buffs shot a ridiculous 7 of 8 on three-pointers and had 11 assists on their 14 made field goals. Maybe they were just hot, or maybe they were just happy to be home after a weird road trip last week, but this offense was humming along with unselfish and confident play. Of course, it takes so much focus to play like this, so we should be happy to see such a clean half.

Something else fun was the bench scoring from Jeriah Horne and Jabari Walker. With their efficient inside-out scoring ability, they combined for 16 points on a perfect 6/6 shooting. It’s such a luxury to have bench scorers that are this dependable. It not only keeps the Buffs afloat when Wright is resting, but gives them multiple ways to score for all 40 minutes.

While the first half was a showcase of focus, the early second was anything but.

That 15-point lead started to slip away as the Buffs lost their intensity. The offense was so good early because they worked the ball into open shots, but it seemed like the Buffs saw their 7/8 three-pointing and thought they could just walk into jumpers. That’s a terrible way to play offense, and if you go cold (because you’re only taking bad shots) it’s a great way to blow a lead.

The defense that was so terrific early also took a huge dip. The Buffs were in sync rotating and helping, contesting every shot Wazzu put up, but that all broke down. Suddenly they were allowing open layups, fouling when they didn’t need to, and failing to secure the defensive glass. There arenso excuses for the difference in play, other than they started coasting while the Cougs were intent on making a comeback.

The Buffs got buckets when they desperately needed them. D’Schawn Schwartz hit a three to end a 9-0 WSU run, then Wright (10/10 on FTs) and Evan Battey (4/4) started working their way to the free throw to expand the lead back to double-digits. That’s the good thing about being the best free throw shooting team in the country — when the game gets ugly, you can always generate points by being aggressive.

Despite their struggles in the second half, it’s still a 12-point win at the end of the day. The Buffs moved to 13-4 on the season, 7-3 in Pac-12 play, and have four more home games after this. Next up will be the Utah Utes on Saturday (12:30 p.m., Pac-12 Networks).