LAS VEGAS Colorado's first-round magic in the Pac-12 tournament remains strong under coach Tad Boyle.
McKinley Wright IV had 20 points, 11 assists and eight rebounds Wednesday — his fourth double-double of the season — and fellow freshman Tyler Bey had his second career double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds to lead the Buffs to a 97-85 win over Arizona State in the first round of the Pac-12 tournament at T-Mobile Arena.
It was CU's seventh Pac-12 tourney opening win in as many tries and lifted the 17-14 Buffs into a Thursday 1 p.m. quarterfinal matchup with Pac-12 regular season champ Arizona. ASU fell to 20-11.
Dominique Collier added 17 points, George King had 12 points and 7 rebounds, Lucas Siewert had 12 points and D'Shawn Schwartz chipped in 10 to round out Colorado's balanced attack.
The Buffs used a 15-1 run midway through the second half to take control, turning a 60-56 deficit with 12 minutes to play into a 71-61 lead with 7:35 to go. ASU never came closer than five again.
"It was a hard-fought win for our guys," Boyle said. "I couldn't be more proud of our players and the grit that they showed and the toughness that they showed from start to finish. .. Our team's got heart, it's got fight, and I love coaching them."
Colorado shot 53.2 percent from the field (33-for-62), including a red-hot 13-for-21 from 3-point range. ASU shot 47.6 percent (30-for-63), including 13-for-32 from beyond the arc. The Buffs also finished with just seven turnovers, a season low against a Pac-12 opponent, and they held a commanding 39-26 edge on the boards.
It was also the first double-digit loss of the season for Arizona State.
HOW IT HAPPENED: While Colorado seniors King and Collier had productive afternoons, it was CU's freshmen who came up big in crucial moments, in particular the decisive 15-1 run.
Dallas Walton started the burst with a bucket inside, D'Shawn Schwartz had a pair of 3-pointers and Wright had a bucket, four assists and a steal as Colorado took command of a game that had been back and forth to that point.
ASU never came closer than five again.
"The freshmen are just growing up," Boyle said. "To do it on this stage in a big-time game against a big-time opponent — I think Arizona State is talented enough to be in the NCAA tournament, they were 12-0 in non-conference — is a big-time win."
Colorado trailed early but finally took its first lead of the game, 19-16, on a Siewert 3-pointer with just under 12 minutes to go in the half. ASU, though, quickly answered with a 12-3 run to go up 30-24 with 6:50 remaining.
But Colorado had the last run of the half, closing the final six minutes on a 17-7 surge to take a 41-37 lead at the half. The Buffs hit eight of their final 10 field goal tries, with Wright starting the final run with five straight points before Dominique Collier closed the half with a pair of 3-pointers, the last coming from the corner with just 10 seconds left on the clock.
"You can't have one or two guys," Boyle said. "Maybe one or two guys can carry you for a game, but they can't carry you through the tournament. The strength of this team is the depth and the number of weapons that we have."
But it was the decisive 15-1 run in the second half that turned the tide for good, then some key buckets down the stretch that kept the game in hand. Bey had a big jumper from the baseline with 3:34 to go to give CU a nine-point lead before Wright hit a huge 3-pointer with 2:17 left to give the Buffs a 14-point cushion, 82-68.
"Players make plays," said Boyle. "When he hit that three, I'm like, 'OK, we've got this thing in the bag.' It's not going to be easy, we had to finish it out."
The Buffs did exactly that, hitting nine free throws in the final two minutes to advance while handing ASU — once 12-0 and ranked No. 3 in the nation — its fifth loss in its last six games.
LATE-GAME FRACAS: A shoving match occurred in the final minutes under the basket after the Sun Devils evidently took exception at a Bey dunk.
Officials reviewed the action, and ended up handing technical fouls to ASU's De'Quon Lake and Tra Holder and CU's George King. CU's Namon Wright was also ejected for leaving the bench. Wright will, however, be available for Thursday's game against Arizona.
Boyle, though, will be hobbling, as he injured a calf muscle rushing to the floor to prevent his players from escalating the situation. He started his postgame press conference with an apology to ASU.
" Let me first start by apologizing to Arizona State for what happened at the end there," Boyle said. "I take full responsibility for that. We certainly weren't trying to rub it in their face. We haven't gone over that situation a lot, and that's my fault as a head coach. But we'd never want to take a turnover, but we don't want to maybe throw an alleyoop lob and make somebody feel like we're showboating. That's on me, that's not on these guys. That has nothing to do with them. That's totally on me."
Boyle later added, "I don't want it to reflect badly on our team, our program, our university. I know what these guys are about. We've got a very sportsmanlike team. … We shouldn't have dunked the ball and that's on me."
TURNING POINT: A 10-0 run midway through the second half, part of a 15-1 surge, gave the Buffs a lead they never relinquished the rest of the game.
WHAT IT MEANS: The victory no doubt at least enhanced Colorado's NIT resume while also moving them one step closer to running the tournament table and earning an NCAA Tournament automatic bid.
CU STANDOUTS: The Buffs had outstanding balance. Along with Wright's 20 points, 11 assists and eight rebounds, Dominique Collier added 17 points, George King had 12 points and 7 rebounds, Lucas Siewerthad 12 points and D'Shawn Schwartz chipped in 10.
KEY STATISTICS: The Buffs shot 53 percent from the field (33-for-62), including 62 percent from 3-point range (13-for-21). CU also held a decisive 39-26 rebounding edge and had just seven turnovers, their fewest against a Pac-12 foe this season. … Boyle is now 8-0 in conference tourney openers at CU — 7-0 in the Pac-12 and 1-0 in the Big 12. ... The 97 points were the most by the Buffs in the postseason since they scored 98 against UMass in the 1991 NIT third-place game. It was also the most ever by a CU team in a conference tournament game.
NEXT UP: Colorado faces Arizona in a 1 p.m. tournament quarterfinal Thursday.