BOULDER | Colorado turned the game in its favor with defense.
Tyler Bey and McKinley Wright each scored 16 points and No. 23 Colorado leaned on a strong defensive effort to beat UC Irvine 69-53 on Monday night.
Colorado (3-0) pressured Irvine into 22 turnovers leading to 21 points for the Buffaloes, who have won all eight of their meetings with the Anteaters. It was the 17th win in Colorado’s last 19 home games.
“I thought our defensive intensity and awareness, for 40 minutes, was really good tonight,” Colorado coach Tad Boyle said. “We turned them over 22 times. We didn’t play our best offensive game by any means but we did take care of the ball better (7 turnovers) and that’s another sign of progress. That’s what you look for in these early games.”
Bey spearheaded Colorado’s defensive performance with six steals.
“Tonight, it was one of those nights where I was in the stance, almost every play, and I was able to get my hands up in the passing lanes and stuff like that,” Bey said. “I’ve been anticipating those passes a little better than the past years. It’s working better for me.”
Collin Welp had 12 points to lead Irvine (3-2). Tommy Rutherford added 10 points but the wave of turnovers by the Anteaters was too much to overcome.
“That’s uncharacteristic for our team,” Irvine coach Russell Turner said. “A lot of that credit goes to Colorado. They have a commitment on the defensive end. That’s a big part of their success. … They were able to impose their will on us and that showed up in the turnover column.”
With the Buffaloes leading 51-38, the Anteaters scored seven straight points capped by Eyassu Worku’s fastbreak jumper to pull to within six points with 9:14 left to play.
But Maddox Daniels hit a 3-pointer from the corner to break up the Anteaters’ momentum and minutes later Bey shook loose in the paint for a dunk and Wright came back on the next possession to hit a jumper to give the Buffaloes an 11-point advantage with 6:06 remaining. Irvine could get no closer the rest of the way.
Colorado moved out to a 40-30 halftime lead, generating the double-digit lead at the break with a 14-2 run that included a breakaway dunk by Bey and a 3-pointer Daylen Kountz following consecutive turnovers by the Anteaters.
In one stretch late in the first half, the Anteaters had four successive turnovers and Colorado hit two 3s during that stretch to start pulling away.
“Their pressure in that segment when we had some of our younger guys on the floor changed the game and got them a really comfortable lead,” Turner said.
UC Irvine: When the Anteaters were able to get their shots away, they were relatively effective, making just under 40 percent of their attempts while converting 7 of their 14 tries from beyond the arc. But they struggled against Colorado’s intense defense, which focused on pressuring the ball wherever it went.
Colorado: The Buffaloes showcased a strong defensive performance, running all over the floor to stay with the Anteaters and pressure them into mistakes. The turnovers by Irvine fueled Colorado’s offense, allowing them to maintain a double digit advantage for much of the game.
UC Irvine: Heads to Las Vegas for a neutral site game against TCU on Thursday night.
Colorado: Takes on Wyoming in a neutral site game at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas on Sunday night, part of the MGM Resorts Main Event tournament.