By David Hayden | @SluggySports
Sports Capital Journalism Program
INDIANAPOLIS – Senior guard McKinley Wright lived his dream of playing in the NCAA Tournament with a stellar 13-assist performance to lead Colorado past Georgetown 96-73 in a first round game at Hinkle Fieldhouse on Saturday.
Wright scored 12 points in his first NCAA tournament game and added five rebounds. Colorado (23-8) will meet Florida State in the second round. Georgetown (13-13) was held to 40% shooting.
Wright has waited four years to reach the NCAA Tournament. He grew up idolizing college basketball players such as Kemba Walker, who led Connecticut to the 2011 national championship, and Trey Burke of Michigan, who reached the 2013 championship game. The opportunity to play in the NCAA Tournament has evaded Wright through his entire career — until now.
In an interview with the Denver Post before Saturday’s game, Wright spoke about why March Madness is a big deal to him.
“This is the biggest basketball event in the world,” he told the Post. “I think it is bigger than the NBA Finals. Everybody in the world watches March Madness.”
From the start of the game, you could tell Wright was loving the experience fulfilling his dream.
At the half, Wright’s eight assists had exceeded his season average of 5.6.
Colorado freshman Jabari Walker benefitted from Wright’s vision while Georgetown’s focus was to stop the senior from scoring.
Walker finished 24 points, making a perfect 5-for-5 from 3-point range. Four of those came in the first half.
“Just having him initiate the offense, it makes my job easier,” says Walker.
The chance to participate in March Madness was one reason Wright chose to return to Colorado for his senior season. He will go down as one of the Colorado greats. He made the All-Pac-12 First Team three times and is the first player in league history — and just the sixth Division I player since 1986 — to surpass 1,800 points, 600 assists and 600 rebounds in his career.
With the lure of pro paychecks tempting after his junior season, Wright returned to Colorado for one more year, because there was unfinished business with the Buffs.
Coach Tad Boyle spoke to The Gazette before the game about Wright wanting to comeback for the opportunity instead of going pro.
“The thing about McKinley is he knows what college basketball is all about. He’d spent three years in our program, so it wasn’t me selling him coming back,” Boyle said. “He came back because he wanted this opportunity, he wanted another year with his teammates, and he realized that college basketball is really a special time in my life. And professional basketball will always be there. It’ll be there for him next year, there’s no doubt about that.”
Wright made sure his team would advance to the next round with his all-around play leading the team.
The Buffs finished shooting 34-for-56, or 61%, including 16-for-25 (64%) from 3-point range.
“Offensively, we did it as well as you can do it,” Boyle said. “It was a great first game. We got the jitters out. Guys were amped up and played with confidence, poise and aggressiveness.”