BOULDER, Colo. Once again, Colorado's big-time players came up with big-time plays in crucial situations Sunday night.
The result was the Buffaloes' fifth straight win, a 67-60 victory over Arizona at the CU Events Center in front of 7,899 fans, the second-largest home crowd of the season. The Buffs broke open a tie game midway through the second half with a 15-3 run to take a 51-39 lead, and the Wildcats — who never led in the game — did not come closer than seven again.
The five-game win streak is the Buffs' longest in league play since 2006 and longest ever in Pac-12 play. CU improved to 16-9 overall and 7-6 in conference play while Arizona suffered its seventh straight loss to fall to 14-12 and 5-8. It is the Wildcats' longest losing streak since the 1982-83 UA team lost 14 straight Pac-10 games.
Lucas Siewert led Colorado with 15 points and nine rebounds. McKinley Wright IV added 14 points and Shane Gatling scored 11. Tyler Bey just missed his fourth double-double in the last five games, finishing with nine points and 10 rebounds.
Ryan Luther led UA with 17 points.
"Another great team victory by the Buffaloes," CU head coach Tad Boyle said. "I thought we played with great toughness tonight. I want to just say Arizona played well. They are a good team. We took their best shot, certainly in the first half. We talked about that at halftime. I said this before the game, I said this every time we play those guys, you have to go out and beat Arizona because they're not going to beat themselves."
HOW IT HAPPENED: After Colorado took a 34-28 lead at the half, Arizona opened the second period with an 8-2 run to tie the game at 36-36 with 15:33 to play.
But led by Wright, the Buffs regained control. The sophomore point guard scored the next seven points, getting a 3-point play off a drive to the bucket, then two more drives with shots off the glass to give Colorado a 43-36 lead. The Wildcats momentarily halted the run with a Dylan Smith 3-pointer, but CU then answered with an 8-0 run. Gatling scored on a short jumper, Bey delivered a basket and free throw and D'Shawn Schwartz hit a 3-pointer with 10:41 to go to give the Buffs a 51-39 edge with 10:41 to play.
Arizona never came closer than seven again.
"There's not enough adjectives to describe McKinley Wright and how good he is for us and how important he is for us," Boyle said. "He just makes big-time shots and he makes big-time plays when they need to be made. They come back and tie it up and he kind of takes over."
But Sunday's win was a total team effort. Freshman forward Evan Battey, who sat out the second half of Wednesday's win over ASU because of back spasms, returned to deliver some outstanding defense on Arizona big man Chase Jeter. The UA junior finished with 10 points, but after scoring the first six points of the second half, had just two the rest of the game.
"Evan takes on a challenge defensively," Boyle said. "He wanted to guard Jeter. I thought we did a really good job on him the second half. He's a load and they are playing through him, make no mistake about it. I think he wore down maybe a little bit in the second half. We did a much better job of fronting him and making him play in a crowd. If you let Jeter go one on one in the post, he's going to score. I thought Evan played terrific defense. He loves that challenge."
The Buffs also got an outstanding all-around game from Siewert, who had a key 3-pointer with 2:53 left to bump CU's lead back to 10. His shot came just after Wright hit a trey from the corner — off an assist from Siewert — to keep CU's lead at 10.
Siewert also had three big "hustle" plays in the last 10 minutes that gave CU second chances at the basket, as well as a key drive down the lane.
"I thought Lucas Siewert was terrific tonight," Boyle said. "He played outside of his comfort zone. Lucas is not one of those guys who relishes contact and physicality, but tonight he made some tough physical plays with the ball driving, rebounding the ball with two hands, getting balls outside of his area. He was terrific. I can't say enough about him. He was player of the game in my opinion."
Arizona coach Sean Miller said Wright's 7-0 run to break the tie early in the second half, plus the 3-pointers from Wright and Siewert were the difference.
"That's what really good players do," Miller said. "His shot in the left corner — he's not a great 3-point shooter — but you see him get that look in a moment of great meaning, you just anticipate that's going in. That's who he is, and Siewert hit one in front of their bench. Both of those shots really broke the game open."
After Siewert's 3-pointer, the Wildcats cut the CU edge back to seven one more time, 65-58, with 2:30 to go on a Dylan Smith 3-pointer. But the Buffs held the 'Cats scoreless over the next two minutes and Gatling hit two free throws with 40 seconds remaining to salt away the win.
The Buffs jumped out to a 6-0 lead to open the game and built their margin to as much as 11 at several different junctures. Colorado hit nine of its first 10 field goal tries while the Wildcats missed their first six. CU's last 11-point lead cam with 6:20 remaining, when Lucas Siewert's 3-point play gave Colorado a 32-21 cushion.
But then came a CU scoring drought that lasted nearly six minutes, and the Wildcats chipped away the lead. UA cut the lead to six before Siewert finally hit a pair of free throws with 23 seconds left to end Colorado's drought. The Wildcats, however, collected a bucket just before the buzzer to send CU into the locker room at intermission with a 34-28 lead.
"I thought Arizona in the first half did a really good job of making us guard them, expending a lot of energy on defense," Boyle said. "I thought it affected us a little bit midway through that second half on offense. We were standing a lot and a lot of it was because we were tired. But we got the pace of the game going the way we wanted it."
TURNING POINT: With the game tied at 36-36, CU's Wright went on a 7-0 scoring run, sparking a 15-3 CU surge that gave Colorado a 12-point cushion. Arizona never came closer than seven again.
WHAT IT MEANS: The win moved CU into a three-way tie for fifth and just one game away from third-place teams Arizona State and Utah. It puts Colorado squarely in contention for a top-four conference finish, which would give the Buffs a first-round bye in the conference tournament — something they have never had.
KEY STATISTICS: The Buffs shot 55.8 percent from the field (24-for-43) while holding Arizona to 44.4 percent shooting (25-for-54). CU also had a 31-24 edge on the boards, helping the Buffs to a 32-28 edge in points in the paint.
CLOSING IN ON NO. 2: Sunday night's win was Boyle's 182nd victory at CU, pulling him to within three of taking over second place on Colorado's all-time list. The No. 2 spot of 184 wins is held by Ricardo Patton, whose era was honored this weekend at CU's annual reunion for former players and coaches.
Boyle is still well behind the all-time leader, Sox Walseth, who won 261 games in his CU career.
NOTEWORTHY: CU had a moment of silence before the game for former Buff Lynn Baker, who passed away over the weekend. … After starting the conference season 2-6 in Pac-12 play, the Buffs are above .500 in the conference. It's the first time in history CU has come from four games under .500 and move past the .500 mark. … The Buffs have won six of their last eight. … CU is 5-0 in February this year and 13-6 in the month over the last three seasons. … CU is now 10-4 all-time at home against the Wildcats, with wins in their last three meetings in Boulder. … The Buffs are 6-1 this year when shooting at least 50 percent and 66-4 in the Tad Boyle era. … CU has shot 58.9 percent from the field in the second half during the five-game win streak. … Siewert's nine rebounds are his most in Pac-12 play and just one off his career high. … Bey has had double-digit rebounds in four of his last five games. Bey was also 4-for-5 from the field Sunday and has shot 72 percent in his last two games (13-for-18). … Wright is now tied for 13th on CU's career assist list (294), and he scored in double figures for the 46th time in 56 career games. He averaged 19 points, 5.0 assists and 4.5 rebounds while shooting 64 percent against the Arizona schools.
QUOTEWORTHY: "I felt like we beat them tonight with great toughness and resolve. We didn't play our best basketball but we played well enough to win." — CU head coach Tad Boyle
"We're just playing more confidently. We got tired of losing. We don't want to lose, we don't want to be at the bottom of the conference. We want to be a top-four team, we want to be a number one team. But we're just going whatever it takes to win games." — CU guard Shane Gatling
"You get those opportunities (3-point shots by Siewert and Wright), you have to deliver. We had a couple opportunities as well and we weren't able to deliver. Instead of a two-point game or a four-point game, it went to eight or 10. But Colorado is a better team than we are." — Arizona coach Sean Miller
NEXT UP: The Buffs head to Washington state for a pair of games next week, their last road trip of the season. It begins with an 8 p.m. matchup Wednesday at Washington State, followed by an 8:30 game Saturday at Washington. CU then finishes the regular season with three straight at home: Utah (March 2), UCLA (March 7) and USC (March 9).