What went right: The Buffs held 14th-ranked Arizona to a season-low field goal percentage of .384. CU shot .547, its second-best effort of the season, and had five players score at least 10 points.
What went wrong: CU committed 13 turnovers in the second half, opening the door for an Arizona rally.
Star of the game: McKinley Wright. There were plenty of candidates, and Wright's seven second-half turnovers didn't help, but the freshman guard nonetheless posted his third double-double of the season with a team-best 16 points to go with 10 assists.
What's next: The Buffs hope to pack their momentum for a trip to California, opening the two-game swing in Los Angeles Wednesday night at USC (8 p.m. MST, FS1).
Who wakes up on their birthday thinking they will spend the day doing something they generally abhor?
On Saturday, that person was Tad Boyle.
With his team shooting for a second upset win against a top-15 foe in three days, the leader of the Colorado men's basketball team did something he rarely enjoys by utilizing a zone defense at the outset of the Buffaloes' Pac-12 Conference matchup against No. 14 Arizona. The Buffs responded with a fast start that ultimately provided their coach with the best birthday present a person could ask for, as CU never trailed in an 80-77 victory amid a raucous atmosphere at the Coors Events Center.
Combined with the Buffs' win Thursday night against No. 4 Arizona State, it is the first time since January 2011 that CU has defeated ranked opponents in consecutive games. It also was the second time a top-15 Arizona squad has fallen at the Coors Events Center, as a ninth-ranked Arizona team lost in Boulder in 2016.
"The key with a talented team is you want to keep them off-balance. I thought the zone helped do that," Boyle said. "They were much more effective playing against it in the second half than the first half, but a lot of that might have had to do with our offense, too. Because we turned the ball over twice in the first half and we turned it over 13 times in the second half, which allowed them to get out in transition. When Arizona gets out in transition with their athletes, they're tough to stop.
"I told our team that any dunks, any post moves (Arizona 7-foot-1) Deandre Ayton gets, it's on you. Any 15-footers are on me. I gave up two 15-footers tonight, but I can live with that. I thought our zone helped keep them off-balance and keep them out of rhythm."
The Buffs blitzed the Wildcats early, breaking an 11-11 tie with a 12-1 run and eventually outscoring Arizona 31-11 to take a 20-point lead with three and a half minutes remaining in the first half.
Arizona whittled CU's lead to 45-29 at halftime and took advantage of a rash of turnovers by the Buffs after the break to outscore CU 17-4 over the first eight and a half minutes of the second half.
That run cut the Buffs' lead to three but an almost all-freshman lineup — D'Shawn Schwartz, Dallas Walton, McKinley Wright, and Lazar Nikolic, alongside senior Dom Collier — helped push CU's lead back to 10 points with under five minutes remaining. CU was able to hold off Arizona the rest of the way, with Collier, Namon Wright, and McKinley Wright combining to go 6-for-6 at the free throw line over the final 40.1 seconds.
"It kind of shows us that we belong," said CU redshirt freshman Dallas Walton. "It's something we really needed today in order to move forward. I think it's something to build upon going forward and I think that's what we're going to be able to do."
One week after two erratic performances by CU led to a pair of Pac-12 opening losses in Oregon, the heroes were abundant for CU against the Wildcats.
Walton, going against a pair of 7-footers inside for Arizona, went 7-for-7 from the floor before finishing with 15 points and two blocked shots. McKinley Wright posted his third double-double of the season with a team-leading 16 points and 10 assists, though his seven second-half turnovers opened the door for Arizona's rally.
Namon Wright scored 14 points and posted his second consecutive season-best effort on the glass with eight rebounds. And as he was in Thursday's upset of ASU, Collier once again was clutch down the stretch, making two 3-pointers over the final eight minutes and finishing with 14 points, two assists, and no turnovers in 19 minutes off the bench.
Arizona entered the game sharing the Pac-12 lead in 3-point percentage but went 7-for-25 against the Buffs' zone.
"Mental toughness. It's something we talk about all the time," Boyle said. "Showing the mental toughness to say, OK. They made their run. Our heads are down. We're turning it over. We've got to get back to playing the way we're capable of playing. Get back to that first half Colorado team. That comes from mental toughness."
COLORADO 80, No. 14 ARIZONA 77
ARIZONA (12-4, 2-1 Pac-12)
Ayton 11-17 3-4 26, Ristic 6-16 1-1 13, Trier 3-9 0-0 8, Alkins 6-14 2-4 16, Jackson-Cartwright 0-6 2-2 2, Lee 0-1 2-2 2, Pinder 0-0 2-2 2, Akot 1-2 0-0 3, Barcello 0-2 0-0 0, Smith 1-4 2-2 5, Randolph 0-2 0-0 0. Totals 28-73 14-17 77.
COLORADO (10-6, 2-2 Pac-12)
Walton 7-7 0-0 15, King 2-8 0-0 5, M.Wright 5-11 6-7 16, N.Wright 5-10 3-4 14, Bey 1-2 2-2 4, Siewert 0-0 0-0 0, Nikolic 0-1 0-0 0, Brown 1-3 0-0 2, Collier 5-7 2-2 14, Schwartz 3-4 2-2 10. Totals 29-53 15-17 80.
Halftime — Colorado 45-29. 3-Point Goals — Arizona 7-25 (Alkins 2-7, Trier 2-8, Akot 1-1, Ayton 1-1, Smith 1-3, Randolph 0-1, Jackson-Cartwright 0-4), Colorado 7-16 (Collier 2-3, Schwartz 2-3, Walton 1-1, N.Wright 1-2, King 1-4, M.Wright 0-1, Brown 0-2). Fouled Out — Alkins. Rebounds — Arizona 31 (Ristic 11), Colorado 32 (King 11). Assists — Arizona 18 (Jackson-Cartwright 8), Colorado 18 (M.Wright 10). Total Fouls — Arizona 18, Colorado 18. Technicals — Lee, Bey. A — 8,519 (11,064).