BOULDER, Colo. While Colorado's defense may not have been at its best Saturday afternoon, McKinley Wright IV was, particularly down the stretch.
That was enough for the Buffs. The sophomore point guard scored CU's final 10 points of the game, including all eight in a decisive 8-0 CU run, to lift the Buffs to an 84-72 win over Illinois-Chicago.
Colorado won its fifth straight to improve to 7-1 while UIC dropped to 4-6. CU also surpassed the 80-point barrier for the fifth straight time and sixth time this season.
Wright finished with 21 points, nine assists and six rebounds. Sophomore forward Tyler Bey collected his second double-double of the year with a 15-point, 15-rebound effort (a career high), and Shane Gatling and D'Shawn Schwartz each scored 12 for Colorado.
Marcus Ottey led the Flames with 22 points, as UIC shot 56.6 percent from the field (30-for-53). A big difference came at the free throw line, where Colorado hit 25 of 33 attempts while UIC was 6-for-10 from the stripe.
The Buffs finished with 16 turnovers, but forced 24 UIC miscues, which Colorado converted into 20 points. The Buffs also scored 50 points in the second half, the fifth time this season they have scored at least 50 after intermission.
"That was a hard-fought win against a really talented UIC team," head coach Tad Boyle said. "We have a lot of room for improvement after a game like this, but we'll take it."
HOW IT HAPPENED: Wright's run started after UIC's Godwin Boahen hit a 3-pointer to pull the Flames within four, 74-70, with just more than three minutes to play.
Wright hit two free throws at the 2:20 mark to bump CU's margin to six, then hit a basket in the lane after a steal 20 seconds later. He drew an offensive foul on UIC's next possession and followed it up with another basket to give CU a 10-point cushion with 1:35 to play.
Wright also had a key rebound in the final minute, hit two free throws with 40 seconds left to give Colorado a 12-point cushion, and then iced the game with two more free throws with 30 seconds remaining.
"He's just a winner," CU head coach Tad Boyle said. "He makes winning plays. We expect so much of him and he just makes big plays down the stretch."
Wright credited his teammates with his key run.
"My teammates just do a good job of helping me create shots, get open and be able to attack the rim," he said. "Without those guys, I'm not going to be able to do that, so all the credit goes to them."
The Buffs never trailed in the game, and led for nearly 38 of the 40 minutes. But every time Colorado threatened to build a comfortable cushion, the hot-shooting Flames had an answer. CU led by five at the half, had 10-point leads at several junctures after intermission, and pushed the lead to 11 with 4:33 to go.
But the Buffs could not put the game away until the final two minutes. It was the second time in a week that the Buffs allowed an opponent to shoot better than 50 percent from the field, as CSU also managed the feat in an 86-80 Colorado win on Dec. 1.
"It seems like they couldn't miss," Wright said. "We have to do a better job of helping each other and having each other's back. We'll watch film and get better."
Colorado did do a good job on UIC leading scorer Tarkus Ferguson, holding him to just three points, 14 under his average. But along with Ottey's 22 — most of which came on drives to the rim — the Flames also got 20 from Jordan Blount and 15 from Boahen. The Flames did most of their damage in the paint, outscoring Colorado 42-30 near the rim.
Still, the Buffs made plays when necessary. CU held a solid 36-28 edge on the boards, which helped the Buffs to a 16-2 edge in second-chance points. Four of Bey's 15 rebounds were on the offensive end, and he finished with 33 minutes, 16 seconds of playing time, also a career high.
"I honestly just come into the game and do whatever I have to do to win," Bey said. "I'm trying to be consistent every game and that's one thing me and coach talked about before the season started."
It was Bey's fourth career double-double and second of the season, while Wright was just one assist short of his second double-double of the year.
"We forget that McKinley is a sophomore and Tyler is a sophomore," Boyle said. "We expect so much of them because they are so important to our team. We have to keep getting better."
TURNING POINT: The game was up for grabs until Wright sparked an 8-0 Colorado run over the final two minutes. Wright had back-to-back baskets, fueled by a steal and offensive charge, in a 20-second stretch with just under two minutes to play that pushed CU's lead to 10 with 1:35 to go.
WHAT IT MEANS: With a five-game win streak, the Buffs hope to take that confidence and momentum on the road, as they play their next six away from home, including Tuesday's game at New Mexico, followed by three games at the Diamond Head Classic in Hawaii before their Pac-12 opening weekend at Arizona (Jan. 3) and Arizona State (Jan. 5).
CU STANDOUTS: The Buffs had four players in double figures, led by McKinley Wright with 21 points, nine assists, six rebounds and three steals. … Tyler Bey had a 15-point, 15-rebound double-double, his second of the season. … Shane Gatling and D'Shawn Schwartz each scored 12 points.
KEY STATISTICS: The Buffs had 36-28 edge on the boards that paved the way for a 16-2 edge in second-chance points. Colorado also forced 24 turnovers and and reaped 20 points off those UIC miscues.
QUOTEWORTHY: "We are not where we need to be defensively. That is a concern of mine as we head into this stretch (Colorado plays its next six games away from home). We just haven't shown it on a consistent basis against quality teams. We're going to see some quality teams and we have to get better. (But) the one thing about our team that is nice is that we're explosive offensively." — CU head coach Tad Boyle.
NEXT UP: The Buffs head to New Mexico on Tuesday for a 7 p.m. game with the Lobos.