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McKinley Wright leads Buffaloes to Senior Day win over UCLA

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Colorado is now 19-7 on the season

NCAA Basketball: UCLA at Colorado Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

After a season of frustrating ups and downs, the Colorado Buffaloes have proved themselves as the best team in the Pac-12. Led by McKinley Wright IV having another career game, they grinded out the win against the toughs-as-nails UCLA Bruins.

Any time the bald heads of Tad Boyle and Mick Cronin clash, it’s going to be some gross basketball, at least at the beginning. The start of this game shouldn’t have been surprising in the least, as both teams struggled to find offensive footing. The only thing happening for the Buffs was Wright taking on a heavy scoring load, getting any layup or jumper he wanted and converting every chance.

Once Jonny Juzang UCLA started scoring this became an even more difficult game. The Buffs have been inconsistent with rim protection all season and tonight was more of the same. Of their 35 first half points, UCLA scored 16 in the paint and 11 from the free throw line (CU did foul jump-shooters, but still).

Meanwhile, the Colorado offense went from bad to worse. All-Defense-caliber defenders Tyger Campbell and Jaime Jacquez face-guarded Wright and Jeriah Horne, respectively, and denied them the ball once they gave it up. Cronin dared CU’s role players to beat his defense, and they looked overmatched to say the least. Still, the Buffs trailed just 35-34 at the break because of Wright’s 17 points.

(Somehow, CU had zero turnovers in the first half.)

Colorado came out of halftime with better energy and effort. They re-emphasized their defensive gameplan and started swarming to the ball every time UCLA drove. Those inside shots were now gone, but unlike in the previous 20 minutes, they couldn’t secure the defensive glass. It was enough to slow down UCLA’s offense, but not enough to pull away, at least not yet.

On the flip side of this back-and-forth game, Kin kept doing Kin things (26 points, 6 assists and 5 rebounds) and his teammates stepped up for some big shots. Tristan da Silva was excellent in his minutes, few they were. Battey still couldn’t buy a shot, but he found his way to the free throw line plenty of times. And Jeriah Horne, with that perfect beard and dewy eyes, made every shot he took in the second half.

The biggest shot Horne made was a three-pointer to punctuate a 9-0 run in which the Buffs took late control of the game. CU’s defensive effort was too much for UCLA and that led to a number of turnovers and misses; the Buffs turned those into transition opportunities and were ruthless with their chances. Once taking the 64-57 lead, they locked in on D and all but ran out the clock.

The Buffs now have back-to-back wins over the Pac-12 co-leaders. This 70-61 win pushes them to 19-7 on the season and 13-6 in conference play. Next up is a home game against Arizona State on Thursday, before heading to the conference tournament in Las Vegas.