What went right: CU became the first team to score at least 70 points against the 17th-ranked Wildcats and outrebounded Arizona 38-32.
What went wrong: A huge disparity at the free throw line proved too much to overcome. Arizona went 26-for-33 while the Buffs finished just 10-for-14.
Star of the game: Xavier Johnson. The senior responded to his ejection-shortened appearance at Arizona State two nights earlier by scoring a game-high 26 points and adding six rebounds.
What's next: The Buffs will face No. 4 UCLA in their first Pac-12 Conference home game Thursday at 9 p.m.
TUCSON, Ariz. — Give credit to the Colorado Buffaloes for their fight and gumption.
The same cannot be said for their ability to consistently execute and protect the basketball.
The resolve a shorthanded Buffs squad displayed in the second half of what ultimately turned into a heartbreaking last-second loss at Arizona State on Thursday carried over into the outset of the Buffs' battle at No. 17 Arizona Saturday night. But it was momentum the Buffs couldn't sustain.
Despite another late rally it was a comeback that once again fell short for CU at the McKale Center, as the Wildcats abruptly turned the tide midway through the first half in handing the Buffs an 82-73 defeat.
While CU became the first team to score at least 70 points against Arizona and also posted a solid 38-32 rebounding advantage, the Buffs couldn't overcome the 24 points the Wildcats scored off 15 CU turnovers or the free throw disparity that led to a 26-for-33 night for Arizona.
"It ebbed and flowed. I was pretty happy with our effort and intensity for the 40 minutes," CU head coach Tad Boyle said. "We didn't play well for 40 minutes. We hit a scoring drought there in the first half without a doubt. But that's going to happen. That's part of basketball.
"We lost this game in two areas. We lost this game at the free throw line. And we lost this game by not taking care of the basketball."
The Buffs finally return home having lost all three games on their season-opening road swing to begin Pac-12 Conference play. It is the first time CU has started 0-3 in league play since the 2008-09 season, when the Buffs opened 0-4 in what became a 1-15 season in the Big 12 Conference.
Saturday's loss also marked CU's eighth straight road loss in the conference and its seventh straight loss at Arizona.
It was an encouraging start for the Buffs, who used a pair of 3-pointers from George King to jump to a 10-1 lead. CU knocked down four of its first five 3-point attempts and led 18-10 when Arizona came alive and took control in a hurry.
The Wildcats reeled off 11 consecutive points to start a 29-6 run, adding another 10 points in a row to cap the game-changing burst. Once Arizona scored the first seven points of the second half it meant the Buffs were outscored 36-9 after taking their 18-10 lead.
Like Thursday's game at ASU the Buffs kept battling late, playing the final 10 minutes much like they played the first 10 minutes and cutting a 20-point Arizona lead down to five with about three minutes remaining. A late 7-0 run by the Wildcats, however, sealed CU's fate.
"I'll still sleep at night because I know we competed hard and we had a lot of effort in this game," King said. "Obviously we're upset with the loss, but it's not as bad as some of the losses that we've had because we competed hard. We were shorthanded the other night (at ASU) and we were able to compete down to the wire without one of our key players. We're still a great basketball team. We've just go to pull out some games."
After missing the second half at Arizona State following an ejection late in the first half, Xavier Johnson returned to lead CU with 26 points, just one point shy of his career-high. Wesley Gordon scored 16 points, also one short of his career-high, while King posted his fifth double-double of the season with 12 points and 11 rebounds.
"It just goes back to consistency with our team," Gordon said. "We played hard, but there were lapses where we didn't play smart. Playing a team like Arizona, they're going to capitalize on your mistakes."
No. 17 ARIZONA 82, COLORADO 73
COLORADO (10-6, 0-3 Pac-12 )
Gordon 6-8 3-3 16, Fortune 1-4 0-0 2, White 3-7 0-0 7, King 5-9 0-0 12, Johnson 9-20 4-6 26, Miller 2-5 0-0 4, Siewert 0-0 0-0 0, Peters 0-3 0-0 0, Brown 0-0 0-0 0, Collier 1-6 3-5 6, Akyazili 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 27-62 10-14 73.
ARIZONA (15-2, 4-0)
Markkanen 6-12 6-7 22, Ristic 7-15 3-5 17, Allen 3-6 9-11 18, Simmons 2-7 0-0 4, Alkins 3-9 3-4 10, Pinder 0-0 0-0 0, Comanche 1-2 1-2 3, Jackson-Cartwright 2-4 4-4 8. Totals 24-55 26-33 82.
Halftime — Arizona 39-27. 3-Point Goals — Colorado 9-29 (Johnson 4-10, King 2-5, Gordon 1-1, White 1-3, Collier 1-5, Peters 0-1, Miller 0-1, Fortune 0-3), Arizona 8-14 (Markkanen 4-5, Allen 3-3, Alkins 1-4, Jackson-Cartwright 0-1, Simmons 0-1). Fouled Out — None. Rebounds — Colorado 38 (King 11), Arizona 29 (Ristic 8). Assists — Colorado 11 (Collier, White 3), Arizona 15 (Jackson-Cartwright 6). Total fouls — Colorado 26, Arizona 16. Technicals — Colorado coach Tad Boyle, Colorado team, Comanche.