Boulder — Although hyperbole is the language of sports, shocking doesn’t begin to describe what happened Thursday night, when a bunch of baby Buffs grew up before my disbelieving eyes. All those Colorado fans dancing on the court, after Colorado upset the Arizona State, the fourth-ranked team in the country?
Was this supposed to happen? Not. In. Your. Life.
Heck, McKinley Wright the freshman point guard whose 19 points fueled a 90-81 overtime victory, wasn’t even supposed to be wearing a CU uniform. Not long ago, he was headed to play basketball at Dayton. Or Indiana. Anywhere but here.
So this is where the CU legend of Wright begins, with an victory as shocking as any we’ve seen in this young season.
“Nobody,” said Wright, “expected us to win …”
“Except us,” interrupted teammate George King.
The Buffaloes, who lost two road games to open their Pac-12 Conference schedule by a disconcerting average of 17 points, upset an Arizona State team that won at Kansas? Really? C’mon, now. Who would’ve predicted that?
Absolutely nobody. The only question seemed how bad would be the beat down of the Buffs, especially after the Sun Devils scored the first 11 points of the game and Boyle took a timeout with 16 minutes, 28 seconds remaining in the first half. Arizona State was schooling Colorado, whose players are so painfully young it would be unreasonable to believe they were anywhere near ready for a prime-time showdown against a top-ranked opponent.
A little confession: Stuck in traffic in Denver, I seriously considered turning the car around 90 minutes prior to tipoff. Not only did it seem the Buffs were going to get their teeth kicked in by Arizona State, after close inspection of the upcoming schedule, I was wondering exactly when they would win a game again for coach Tad Boyle.
“I was, too, to be honest with you,” said Boyle, making a little confession of his own.
It was a evening so packed with big shots and timely blocks that you couldn’t count all the CU heroes without a scorecard. Let’s start with a shout-out to senior guard Dominique Collier, the former prep phenom from Denver East High School whose career in Boulder has often read like a study in frustration. Collier, however, drained three jumpers from 3-point range and dished six assists, helping stake the Buffs to 73-67 lead with 77 seconds remaining in the second half.
These Sun Devils, however, refused to quit, forcing overtime, when Arizona State’s Mickey Mitchell slammed a dunk that tied the score at 74 in the final seconds of regulation. King didn’t need to survey the crowd of 7,740 fans in the Coors Event Center to know what apprehensive thoughts were bouncing around the minds of CU fans.
“Oh, snap. Overtime. Against the No. 4 team in the county,” King said.
This is where Arizona State would exert its will, and the Buffs would fold. Right?
“We don’t care what anybody thinks,” Wright said. “We’re here to prove people wrong.”
In the Colorado huddle prior to overtime, King told his teammates they were built to win when legs, lungs and hearts of the opposition grow weak.
“We weren’t afraid of that moment,” King said. “I think it shocked them.”
Wright took over, refusing to back down when the Sun Devils dared him to blink. He’s a freshman in name only. And, sooner or later, there will be NBA paychecks in his future.
“McKinley is unquestionably our engine. Our guys feed off him,” Boyle said. “I’ve never had a freshman have the role, emotionally and in terms of basketball, that he has on this team.”