BOULDER — When CU point guard McKinley Wright IV boldly declared at the outset of this basketball season the Buffs were ready, willing and able to take on Duke, Kentucky and any of the sport’s bluebloods, I must confess: It sounded like cheap talk my ears.
Well, consider me sold. These Buffs did more than talk the talk when they walked all over No. 4 Oregon and beat the Ducks 74-65 Thursday night.
“I’m not just saying it to say it: We’re one of the best teams in the country. For real,” announced Wright, after the Buffs took apart Oregon in their Pac-12 opener.
It was more than a huge victory. It felt like a coming out party for college basketball in our fair state. All the stars in Colorado have not shined so brightly inside this arena since those crazy nights when Chauncey Billups became Mr. Big Shot, way back in 1990s.
The roar is back in the CU Events Center. “It’s Buffs Nation. We’re family,” said Wright, whose 21 points and eight assists did not begin to measure his impact on the final score.
At the broadcast table, goofy Bill Walton munched on fruit leather during timeouts. After any whistle that went against the Buffs, athletic director Rick George got on the referees the way a bulldog pounces on a chew toy. Super booster George Solich sipped water from his courtside seat.
The joint, however, didn’t really start rocking until the first half was nearly over, when former CU running back and current Broncos sensation Phillip Lindsay was the last of 10,770 spectators to enter the building. Lindsay plopped down on a seat next to football coach Mel Tucker.
Only a jester with mischief in his heart might think: Would Tucker, whose recruiting standards are very high, have offered an undersized back named Lindsay a scholarship when he came out of Denver South High School?
“Why wouldn’t I? I’d be crazy not to recruit Phillip Lindsay!” Tucker replied. “And you can write that.”
Well, this basketball team is the most fun sports have been on the CU campus since Lindsay was the heart and soul of a gritty football team that shocked the Pac-12 by winning 10 games in 2016.
Tyler Bey, Evan Battey and D’Shawn Schwartz, however, are not scrappy underdogs. These Buffs are not only the most talented and deepest squad coach Tad Boyle has enjoyed during his 10 years in Boulder, Wright and the gang are legit threats to win the league championship and earn a top four seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Tenacious D by the Buffs had Oregon star Payton Pritchard muttering under his breath and limited to the Ducks to 16.7% shooting from 3-point range. But it was Wright who won the game when the visitors cut CU’s lead to 57-53 with 4 minutes, 34 seconds, remaining in the second half and there was an outbreak of unhealthy blood pressure levels throughout the building.
It was time for the Buffs to show if they’re for real. And on three straight offensive possessions, Wright drained a 3-point jumper from the top of the key, dropped a dime to Schwartz for an easy basket and finished a drive into the paint with a right-as-rain teardrop that built the Buffs’ lead back to 11 points.
“McKinley Wright is as big-time clutch performer as I’ve ever coached,” Boyle said.
As students danced on the court in celebration of beating the fourth-ranked team in the country, George headed for the arena exit and paused just long enough to matter-of-factly tell me: “Great win.”
Great victories are too precious to ever be taken for granted.
Huge victories, however, no longer count as huge upsets for this CU basketball program.
These Buffs expect to be great.