What went right: The Buffs displayed great heart and resiliency despite a 20-point deficit early in the second half, traits they hope will serve them will if, as expected, an NCAA Tournament berth arrives on Sunday. CU dominated the glass with a 51-35 rebounding advantage.
What went wrong: The slow start offensively proved too much to overcome. More than 15 minutes passed before a CU player other than Josh Scott recorded a field goal, and the Buffs finished the opening frame with an 8-for-31 mark from the field.
Star of the game: Josh Scott. Though the senior forward probably would like to get back a couple of prime early chances that went awry, he still finished with 16 points and 13 rebounds.
What's next?: The Buffs will learn their NCAA Tournament fate during Sunday afternoon's tournament selection show.
LAS VEGAS — Despite their frequent foibles down the stretch of games in which they have held significant leads, the Colorado Buffaloes men's basketball team of 2015-16 also has displayed a commendable level of grit and resiliency.
So when Arizona stormed out to a 17-point halftime lead of the teams' Pac-12 Conference tournament quarterfinal battle on Thursday afternoon, the Buffs and head coach Tad Boyle remained steadfast in their belief a comeback was imminent.
And they were right. It simply was too big a hole to climb out of.
Unable to fully erase an Arizona lead that remained at 20 points with under 17 minutes remaining in the second half, CU's dream of a second conference tournament championship in five seasons in the Pac-12 ended with an 82-78 defeat at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.
With the loss, the Buffaloes have several days to regroup before learning their NCAA Tournament fate on Sunday. Most projections have the Buffs slotted as an eight or nine seed, and Thursday's result is unlikely to change that.
"The one thing about this group of guys is that they've shown resiliency all year long," Boyle said. "It hasn't all been peaches and cream for us. We've had some tough losses on the road...I don't worry about them giving their best effort, or being ready to play.
"We don't always play well, or we don't shoot the ball the way we're capable. We're not perfect. We've got great character and great toughness. I'll go to war with these guys. We really felt with our hearts we could win this tournament."
Arizona, seeded fourth in the league tournament and ranked 15th in the nation, led by as many as 21 points late in the first half and retained a 20-point advantage early in the second before the Buffs nearly pecked and clawed their way to victory.
CU twice cut the deficit to 11 points midway through the second half but didn't get to within 10 until a George King layup with 5 minutes, 18 seconds remaining. The wild final five minutes nearly stunned the heavily partisan Wildcats crowd.
Arizona again led by 10 points before Josh Scott converted a 3-point play with 1:04 to go, trimming the Wildcats' lead to seven. A 3-pointer by CU's Josh Fortune with 19.7 seconds left made it a four-point game, but Arizona was solid down the stretch at the free-throw line while icing the win.
King knocked down a 3-pointer with 1.9 seconds remaining to make it an 80-78 deficit, but Arizona's Gabe York finally ended the drama with two free throws.
The Wildcats finished 32-for-44 at the free throw line, including a 30-for-38 mark in the second half.
"I was trying to get to the free throw line, but it didn't happen," Scott said. "I missed a few shots that I generally make."
Scott scored a season-high 26 points in CU's home win against Arizona two weeks ago but garnered far more intensive defensive attention this time around, though he still recorded a double-double with 16 points and 13 rebounds.
King suffered a much slower start than during his 21-point eruption in Wednesday's first-round win against Washington State, yet he scored 19 second-half points before finishing with a team-high 22 points.
CU outrebounded Arizona 51-35, leading to a 26-11 advantage in second-chance points. The Buffs also finished with just 12 turnovers after committing nine in the first half, but the comeback arrived a little too late.
"We came here to win this tournament, and felt we were in a good place mentally and physically to do that," Boyle said. "We came up short tonight. Arizona obviously outplayed us convincingly in the first half, and I think that's where we kind of lost the game."
Gordon 3-5 1-2 7, Talton 1-6 4-4 6, Collier 0-4 0-0 0, King 6-15 8-9 22, Scott 7-16 2-2 16, Akyazili 3-8 2-3 9, Fletcher 1-4 2-2 4, Miller 1-3 2-3 4, Fortune 4-15 0-0 10. Totals 26-76 21-25 78.
York 5-10 4-7 15, Allen 4-4 3-6 12, Trier 6-11 8-9 23, Anderson 4-8 9-10 17, Tarczewski 1-9 2-4 4, Jackson-Cartwright 1-3 2-2 5, Ristic 1-2 1-2 3, Comanche 0-0 3-4 3, Tollefsen 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 22-48 32-44 82.
Halftime: Arizona 37-20. 3-Point Goals: Colorado 5-19 (King 2-5, Fortune 2-9, Akyazili 1-2, Fletcher 0-1, Talton 0-2), Arizona 6-12 (Trier 3-4, Allen 1-1, Jackson-Cartwright 1-1, York 1-5, Tollefsen 0-1). Fouled Out: Fortune. Rebounds: Colorado 51 (Scott 13), Arizona 35 (Anderson, Tarczewski 11). Assists: Colorado 12 (Fletcher, King 3), Arizona 8 (Trier 3). Total Fouls: Colorado 33, Arizona 23. A: 12,916.