CU men’s basketball preview: No. 14 Arizona
MATCHUP: No. 14 Arizona Wildcats (12-3, 2-0 Pac-12) at Colorado Buffaloes (9-6, 1-2).
GAME TIME: Saturday, noon, Coors Events Center.
BROADCAST: TV — Pac-12 Network; Radio — 850 AM.
COACHES: Arizona — Sean Miller, 9th season (232-69, 352-116 overall); Colorado — Tad Boyle, 8th season (158-101, 214-167 overall).
LEADERS: Arizona — Scoring: G Allonzo Trier, Jr., 20.3 ppg; Rebounding: F Deandre Ayton, Fr., 12.1 rpg; Assists: G Parker Jackson-Cartwright, Sr., 4.7 apg. Colorado — Scoring: G McKinley Wright, Fr., 16.2 ppg; Rebounding: G/F George King, Sr., 7.9 rpg; Assists: Wright, 4.9 apg.
NOTES: After defeating Utah 94-82 on Thursday night, the Wildcats will be aiming for a rare feat. Since CU and the Utes joined the Pac-12 in the 2011-12 season, only four teams have successfully completed the Utah-CU sweep on the road…Since losing three consecutive games in the Bahamas in November at the Battle 4 Atlantis — a slide that dropped the Wildcats from No. 2 in the nation to unranked — Arizona has won nine consecutive games…CU has lost nine of its past 10 games against Arizona, but the Buffs’ lone win in that stretch was a home victory against a ninth-ranked Wildcats team in Arizona’s most recent trip to Boulder two years ago…After struggling with 3-point defense for much of the season, the Buffs have held their past two opponents to a .283 mark (15-for-53) from long range…Arizona shares the Pac-12 lead with a .392 3-point percentage, though the Wildcats have compiled that mark with the third-fewest attempts in the league…CU is seeking wins against ranked foes in consecutive games for the first time since defeating No. 9 Missouri and No. 21 Kansas State in January of 2011.
For the University of Colorado men’s basketball team, the victory celebration will be short-lived.
Less than 48 hours after turning in the sort of win that has the potential to alter the complexion of the season, the Buffaloes will face a challenge every bit as demanding as the one they conquered Thursday night with a 90-81 overtime win against No. 4 Arizona State.
While still basking in the euphoria, the Buffs must turn around and try to do it again with a battle against No. 14 Arizona Saturday afternoon at the Coors Events Center.
Head coach Tad Boyle cited the three wins in three days the Buffs picked up in November while winning the Paradise Jam in Virginia as an instance in which his youthful club learned to deal with quick turnarounds. However, even with the emotions that followed McKinley Wright’s buzzer-beating 3-pointer in that tournament’s opening win against Quinnipiac, the freshmen-heavy rotation of the Buffs has yet to experience the mental gymnastics required to shake off a signature victory in short order to tackle an equally formidable foe.
They will Saturday.
“We’ve got (Friday) and it’s a short turnaround,” Boyle said. “One of the things that helps us for these situations is the tournament we went to, the Paradise Jam in Lynchburg, Virginia…we had three games in three days. Our guys had quick turnarounds there. We’re built for that. We can turn around this thing quick. But we’re not playing Drake or Mercer. We’re playing Arizona. That’s a little different animal.
“It’s going to be another heck of a challenge. Arizona presents entirely different problems than Arizona State does.”
Thursday night’s performance was the best all-around effort turned in by the Buffs this season. Defensively, ASU entered the game with the nation’s fourth-best scoring offense at nearly 91 points per game. The Sun Devils scored 74 in regulation. ASU also entered the game with a 3-point percentage of .393, just a fraction behind Arizona for the Pac-12 Conference lead. After the Sun Devils made their first three long-range attempts during an 11-0 opening salvo, Boyle made a maneuver he never enjoys by often employing a 2-3 zone. ASU went 6-for-31 on 3-pointers the rest of the way.
Offensively, four Buffs players scored in double figures. And despite another impressive showing from Wright (19 points, five assists, three offensive rebounds), Thursday arguably was the first time this season CU’s three veterans led the way to victory, with junior Namon Wright and seniors Dom Collier and George King going 9-for-17 on 3-pointers. Led by six assists and just one turnover from Collier, that trio also combined to record nine assists against three turnovers.
For a team that averaged 16.8 turnovers over its previous four games, keeping that turnover figure at 14 (13 in regulation) was as critical for CU as its balanced offense and harassing defense.
As Boyle noted, the Wildcats will bring an entirely different sort of challenge to the Coors Events Center. While CU’s array of guards was able to frustrate the guard-oriented Sun Devils, Arizona brings a pair of 7-footers to the mix in senior Dusan Ristic and freshman Deandre Ayton, who has a chance of being the second consecutive Pac-12 player to be the first overall selection in the NBA draft.
“Playing against that small-ball with Arizona State is a lot of fun. Playing against fast guards you can run around a bit,” King said. “Transitioning, playing a totally different team, now they’ve got big guys coming in on Saturday. We’ll make adjustments. We’ll watch film. Saturday it might not be so up-and-down.”