A heated hoops rivalry?

Arizona and Colorado aren't quite there yet.

But the Buffs' victory over the storied Wildcats in the Pac-12 Tournament championship game last season does add some spice to the series entering the 2012-13 season.

CU opens conference play on Thursday at No. 3 Arizona (6 p.m., ESPNU).

"Obviously, we respect Colorado a great deal," Arizona head coach Sean Miller said recently on the Pac-12 coaches teleconference. "Not necessarily because of how they did last year and the results against us, but because they have a quality team and coaching staff. We respect them a great deal."

The Wildcats (12-0), picked the win the Pac-12 in the preseason media poll, have lived up to the hype so far with non-conference wins over Texas Tech, Clemson, then-No. 5 Florida, Miami and No. 17 San Diego State.

Arizona ranks No. 1 in the Pac-12 in scoring margin (+17.4) and free throw percentage (.758). Miller's team is also second in field goal percentage (.486) and third in field goal percentage defense (.389).

The Buffs, coming off an 80-52 victory over Hartford on Saturday at the Coors Events Center, understand what will be waiting for them in Tucson.

"I think they want to beat us really bad and we want to come out on top again," Askia Booker said after scoring 19 points against Hartford. "I think it's going to be a great game. It's going to be physical. There's going to be bumping and grinding all over the place. We're going to have to grind it out and get the win."

CU's first road game against a highly ranked opponent did not go very well, as the Buffs were drubbed 90-54at then-No. 9 Kansas on Dec. 8.

"I think our guys were a little embarrassed by that Kansas performance," head coach Tad Boyle said.

"As we look forward going to Arizona next week, it's going to be another tough environment and another tough home court advantage we're stepping into. It will be a challenge to our guys to see if we've learned from that experience."

Since that humbling afternoon at Allen Fieldhouse, Boyle's team won its first true road game at Fresno State and emptied the bench during blowout home wins over Northern Arizona and Hartford.

"We should dominate Northern Arizona and we should dominate Hartford. Our guys are bigger and stronger and better athletes," Boyle said. "Now the test comes, can we dominate Arizona? I'm not sure we can dominate them, but we can neutralize their size and strength and athleticism. ...

"They've got men, they've got animals in there, and it's a different deal than what we've faced the last two games. But our guys understand that and our guys love challenges."

CU's starters appear ready for prime time after the impressive tune-up victory over the Hawks.

Josh Scott scored a career-high 21 points on 9-for-12 shooting from the field. The 6-11 freshman also grabbed 10 rebounds in 23 minutes.

Andre Roberson had his conference-leading sixth double-double of the season with 14 points and 14 rebounds.

Spencer Dinwiddie had 11 points, six rebounds, six assists and three turnovers.

The bench took a step back after getting outscored 22-12 by Hartford's reserves.

"We haven't been playing teams as good as Kansas since that game," Booker said. "Arizona is going to be just as good as Kansas, if not better. We're going to get in the gym with these practice days that we have and just work and get prepared for that."

CU was ranked 19th in the polls after a 6-0 start that included wins over Dayton, Baylor and Murray State at the Charleston Classic. The team also lost at Wyoming and defeated Air Force and Colorado State at home.

The Buffs finished the challenging non-conference schedule 10-2 and with a top-five RPI.

"I think it's a great record. I hate to say it, but I think we should be 11-1," Booker said. "I'm not satisfied with 10-2, but I'm pleased. Hopefully we can keep the wins going into the Pac-12."

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @RyanThorburn