To the credit of Colorado men's basketball coach Tad Boyle and his staff, the Buffaloes set a blueprint for how to slow down and frustrate the highly-talented Arizona Wildcats three weeks ago.
Unfortunately for CU, in the games since then Arizona has seen plenty of the sorts of zone defenses that kept the Wildcats on their heels in the early stages of what became an 80-77 upset victory for the Buffs at home on Jan. 6. And when the Buffaloes visit No. 11-ranked Arizona Thursday night in the rematch, the Buffs no longer will be able to catch the Wildcats off-guard with any unexpected wrinkle.
"They've seen a lot of zone since then, so they continually get better at zone the more they see it," Boyle said. "It's all about energy, it's all about effort, it's all about making them hopefully shoot jump shots over our hands. That's really what defense comes down to for us. We want to limit their paint touches, especially with (Dusan) Ristic and (Deandre) Ayton down low and not let them catch it close to the basket. If they do catch it, make sure it's 12 to 15 feet and it's a jump shot over hands.
"It doesn't matter if we're in man, it doesn't matter if we're in zone. That's the goal of our defense."
Arizona, ranked 14th at the time, appeared out of sorts early in the first meeting while facing a zone approach not typically utilized by Boyle's teams. The Wildcats went 9-for-30 in the first half while CU built a 20-point lead with three and a half minutes left in the opening stanza.
While that first-half effort set a template for the Buffs to perhaps follow in the desert, the second half set a template for what the Buffs need to avoid. Boyle noted after Tuesday's practice that Arizona plays even faster at home, with standout junior guard Allonzo Trier getting the bulk of his points in transition.
CU held Trier to eight points, in part by shooting well (.547) and protecting the ball during the first half with only two turnovers. CU committed 13 in the second half, which opened the door for a Wildcats rally but also now serves as a reminder to the youthful Buffs about how things could get out of control in a hurry Thursday night if they start giving away possessions.
The Buffs have shown signs of improvement in that department of late, committing a total of 28 turnovers in the three games since recording 22 in a loss at USC on Jan. 10.
"At this time of the season — 20, 22 games in — there's no surprises that we're going to throw at them," Boyle said. "Your ball-screen defense against Allonzo Trier has to be really good, because he uses ball-screens well to score. And then you have to be aware of him in transition. He gets over 50 percent of his baskets in transition. So if you can limit and hopefully eliminate those two areas of him scoring the ball, you cut his effectiveness offensively in half. We did it here. It's a lot harder to do at Arizona."