CU men's hoops preview

FRIDAY: The Colorado Buffaloes (23-10) face the No. 4 Arizona Wildcats (29-3) in a 7 p.m. MDT game at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas.

BROADCAST:

Radio — 760 AM, with Mark Johnson on play-by-play and Scott Wilke providing color commentary. TV — Pac-12 Network.

STORYLINES: This is the semifinal round of the Pac-12 Tournament. CU is the No. 5 seed and Arizona is the No. 1 seed. ... CU defeated Southern Cal, 59-56, in Wednesday's first round and then knocked of California, 59-56, in Thursday's quarterfinals. ... Arizona blew out Utah, 71-39, in Thursday's quarterfinals. ... Arizona is 2-0 against the Buffs this year, winning 69-57 in Tucson on Jan. 23 and 88-61 in Boulder on Feb. 22. ... Arizona's Nick Johnson was named Pac-12 Player of the Year this week in a vote of conference coaches. ... In the history of the Pac-12/10 Tournament, No. 1 seeds are 3-0 vs. No. 5 seeds. ... This is third time in the three-year history of the Pac-12 Tournament that these two teams have met.


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CU beat the Wildcats, 53-51 in the 2012 championship game and Arizona beat the Buffs 66-58 in the 2013 quarterfinals.

KEY STAT: Arizona has made 70.8 percent of its second half shots (34 of 48) against the Buffs this season, including 84.6 percent (22 of 26) in Boulder.

COACHES: Tad Boyle is 92-48 in his fourth season at CU and 146-114 for his career. Sean Miller is 134-50 in his fifth season at Arizona and 245-93 for his career.

PROBABLE STARTERS (stats going into Thursday):

Colorado — G Xavier Talton, 6-2, So. (4.6 ppg, 2.2 rpg, 1.6 apg); G Askia Booker, 6-2, Jr. (13.9 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 3.5 apg); F Wesley Gordon, 6-9, Fr. (6.1 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 1.4 bpg); F Xavier Johnson, 6-7, So. (12.1 ppg, 5.9 rpg); F Josh Scott, 6-10, So. (14.5 ppg, 8.8 rpg, 1.2 bpg). Arizona — G Nick Johnson, 6-3, Jr. (16.1 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 2.8 apg); G T.J. McConnell, 6-1, Jr. (8.3 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 5.5 apg); G Gabe York, 6-3, So. (6.8 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 1.5 apg); F Aaron Gordon, 6-9, Fr. (12.3 ppg, 7.8 rpg); C Kaleb Tarczewski, 7-0, So. (10.2 ppg, 6.7 rpg).

SERIES: CU leads the series 11-10, but the teams are tied 2-2 on neutral courts.

UP NEXT: With a win, CU would play in the Pac-12 championship game on Saturday at 4 p.m. MDT. With a loss, the Buffs would wait for a postseason bid.

LAS VEGAS — —Colorado's first two meetings with Arizona this season didn't go well.

The Buffaloes are hoping for a different result on Friday.

CU knocked off California, 59-56, on Thursday to earn another shot at the fourth-ranked Arizona Wildcats. CU (23-10) and Arizona (29-3) will tip off at 7 p.m. MDT Friday in the Pac-12 Tournament semifinals.

"I told these guys in the locker room, all you can ask for in life is an opportunity," CU head coach Tad Boyle said. "We have an opportunity tomorrow to go play against one of the top teams in the country and prove ourselves."

CU is 0-2 against the Wildcats this season, including an 88-61 embarrassment on Feb. 22 in Boulder.

On Thursday, Arizona reminded the conference once again how good it can be when it crushed Utah 71-39. Utah had lost 10 games by a total of 45 points this season and is generally considered one of the more competitive teams in the conference, making Arizona's rout that much more impressive.

"I respect them a lot," CU's Xavier Johnson said of the Wildcats. "They're a great team. We have to be able to come out there and do the same thing that they do to other people."

Arizona has racked up wins all season by playing relentless on defense, while getting timely offense.

"They're the best defensive team in our league; it's not even close," Boyle said. "They're the best rebounding team in our league. It is close there. I think we competed a little better on the boards. But we're going to have to guard Arizona like they guard everybody else."

Rebounding will also be a key, as the Buffs want to limit the number of second-chance opportunities Arizona gets.

CU would also like a better start. On Jan. 25 in Tucson, the Buffs fell behind 9-0 and 18-4 and never recovered. Last month in Boulder, Arizona led 22-5 after the first 10 minutes.

"It's nice to get a third crack at somebody that's beaten you handily," CU's Josh Scott said. "You learn a lot from the times that you've lost to them, so we've learned a lot since we played them. Hopefully we can show what we've learned in this next game."

Booker connecting

Through the first two rounds, CU's Askia Booker has 38 points on 16-of-32 (50 percent) shooting. He also has seven assists, 10 rebounds and just three turnovers in 72 minutes of play.

"It's now or never, man," he said of why he's playing so well. "That's the mentality. I made sure I was prepared before I came on this trip, mentally and physically, and it's starting to pay off. I just don't want to let my team down and I want to give us a great shot at winning and I think I'm doing a fair job of that right now."

Bears must wait

With its two wins this week, the Buffs have likely solidified their spot in the NCAA Tournament. Cal, on the other hand, will be sweating on Sunday when the tournament selections are made. Cal came into the week considered a bubble team.

"Can we compete in the Tournament? Yes," Cal coach Mike Montgomery said. "Are there others that will be in that we're better than? Absolutely. But at this point, it's out of our hands. The job needed to be done for sure before, so now we're at the mercy (of the committee), and we've made it tough on ourselves."

Notable

CU's 23 wins are the third-most in school history. The 2010-11 and 2011-12 teams both won 24. ... Prior to this week, CU was 1-7 this season when shooting 20 or fewer free throws. They are 2-0 this week. The Buffs were 9-for-14 from the line against Cal. ... CU has scored exactly 59 points in regulation in four consecutive games.

Contact staff writer Brian Howell at howellb@dailycamera.com or twitter.com/BrianHowell33.