LAS VEGAS — On Wednesday the Colorado Buffaloes played as if they had nothing to lose.
And as they started to take control during the second half of their win against Arizona State in the first round of the Pac-12 Conference tournament, the Buffs’ free-and-easy approach clearly was getting the best of a Sun Devils team stressing about its postseason fate.
Unlike ASU, Arizona’s NCAA Tournament berth already is sealed regardless of how the Wildcats fare in the Pac-12 tourney. Yet when the Buffs take on UA in the quarterfinals Thursday afternoon, they hope to utilize the same nothing-to-lose style that worked so well in a 97-85 win against ASU.
“We’re going to let it all hang out,” CU head coach Tad Boyle said. “Just go play as hard and hopefully as well as we can play. I’ve said this before — Arizona does not beat themselves, you have to beat them. This team believes in themselves and has a great spirit about them right now.”
During the final weekend of the regular season last week Arizona head coach Sean Miller announced that all three of the underclassmen in his starting lineup — Deandre Ayton, Allonzo Trier, and Rawle Alkins — will leave early for the NBA. Given the embattled Arizona program has its NCAA berth cemented, it is easy to wonder what sort of Wildcats team will hit the floor at T-Mobile Arena. One that is motivated to show the college basketball world it can still live up to its preseason billing as a Final Four candidate? Or one that already is putting all its eggs in the NCAA Tournament basket?
“Arizona is a very good team. They have two of the leading scorers in our conference,” CU guard McKinley Wright said. “We know it’s not going to be easy. We’ve got to come out and execute, take care of the ball, and string together stops like we did (against ASU).”
Arizona has eliminated CU from the Pac-12 tourney in each of the past two seasons and in four of the five seasons since the Buffs posted a memorable win against the Wildcats in the 2012 title game.
Schwartz comes through
On his first shot attempt in his first Pac-12 Conference tournament game, freshman guard D’Shawn Schwartz botched a little flip-shot in the lane he probably has hit tens of thousands of times in his life.
The miss made Schwartz hesitate the next time he had an open look. Boyle told Schwartz he couldn’t lose confidence, and the rookie eventually came through with a couple of big 3-pointers during the Buffs’ game-breaking run in the second half.
“I had passed up an open shot, and (Boyle) told me, ‘You missed your first one, but keep shooting and don’t worry about it,'” Schwartz said. “I came back and tried to be as aggressive as I could. We had a lot of fun and really played together and honed in on what we had to do.”
Schwartz connected on a pair of 3-pointers during a CU burst of 10 consecutive points that turned into a 15-1 game-breaking run for the Buffs during the second half. The Colorado Springs native matched his freshman season-best with 10 points, a total he reached previously against CU’s opponent in the Pac-12 quarterfinals on Thursday, Arizona, during a home win on Jan. 6.
Arizona’s 7-foot-1 Ayton, who swept the Pac-12 Player of the Year and Newcomer of the Year awards, got the job done against the Buffs in different ways during the teams’ two regular-season meetings. In CU’s home win, Ayton finished 26 points after going 11-for-17 from the floor. In UA’s home win on Jan. 25, Ayton went 12-for-12 at the free throw line and recorded 20 points…CU 7-foot redshirt freshman Dallas Walton posted just four points and one rebound in the Buffs’ first-round win against ASU, but he went 7-for-7 with 15 points and two blocked shots in CU’s home win against the Wildcats on Jan. 6…The winner of Thursday’s game will face either Stanford or UCLA in the first semifinal on Friday at 7 p.m. MT. Thursday’s other quarterfinal pairings feature Oregon State and USC at 7 p.m. MT and Oregon against Utah at 9:30 p.m. MT.
Pat Rooney: email@example.com or twitter.com/prooney07