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Colorado Buffaloes fall short of upsetting Arizona Wildcats

The Buffs were fantastic in a near-win.

NCAA Basketball: Colorado at Arizona Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

The Colorado Buffaloes almost did it again. The Buffs had a chance at knocking off the Arizona Wildcats on the road, but the Cats outplayed them in the clutch to pull away, 80-71.

Colorado started strong again on the road as they built an early lead that peaked at 13-4 at the under-12 timeout. That lead was never going to last, but that’s fine. The Wildcats started to make shots, chipped away at the lead, and after the Buffs started to wilt under the defensive pressure, Arizona took their first lead over Colorado this season when Deandre Ayton gave them a 26-24 lead just before half. That was their first lead over the Buffs in 59 minutes of action this season.

Much like the last game between the two, the Buffs were successful early on because of inspired defense that has become something of a norm for the team. The Buffs seemed determined to not let Ayton dominate them again, so it seems they fouled the hell out of him whenever he went inside; unfortunately, he was perfect from the free throw line, as was the rest of his team. Arizona was solid on the interior, but Colorado kept them in check everywhere else and held them below 40% shooting.

It’s just about impossible to win on the road if you’re putting up points yourself, and though it was a low scoring half at 30-30, the Buffs had a promising offensive half led by George King and McKinley Wright. Those two combined 15 points, 7 rebounds and 2 assists and they were only getting warmed up. They would finish the game with 37 points, 8 rebounds and 7 assists.

The pace and scoring picked up quite a bit in the second half as both offenses started to figure each other out. For Arizona, they had a superb showing from Dusan Ristic as he had possibly the game of his life with 15 points and 8 rebounds. The Wildcats also started converting the three-point attempts they had missed in the other 60 minutes between the teams. And perhaps more importantly, Ayton and others continually got to the free throw line and simply would not miss. They shot 22-23 on free throws, which compared to CU shooting 4-6 from the line, proved to be the difference. This free throw disparity was enough for Tad Boyle to get a rare technical foul argument about in the second half.

Arizona heated up before Colorado and that allowed the Wildcats to build a 12-point lead with 13 minutes left. Most Colorado teams would have given up and died, but this team is different and they fought back furiously. The comeback effort started slowly, but soon enough the Buffs were in business when George King started hitting clutch shots and McKinley Wright started shredding their zone defense with absurd passes. A Kin made three-pointer brought the game to 70-69 with 7 to go. The Buffs just needed to keep it up and prevent Arizona from going on a game-ending run. But that didn’t happen.

Just as it looked like Colorado could finally get an official win in the desert, Arizona started hitting ridiculous shots. Allonzo Trier made a deep contested three to give them breathing room, then after a free throw, Parker Jackson-Cartwright drilled a contested three as the shot clock expired. And that was that, more or less. It took two three-pointers for Arizona to take control in the final minutes and they ran out the clock from there.

Say what you will about moral victories, but this is as encouraging of a loss as you can imagine. The Buffs showed up on the road, played with intensity, came back from a second half deficit, and lost because foul calls and crazy shots fell in the other team’s favor. A road game against an ultra-talented Arizona team could have gone either way, and that in itself is great to see.

Next up for the Buffs is a road game against Arizona State on Saturday night (6:00, ESPNU). If they come out with the same intensity and focus, they can very well upset the Sun Devils to complete the sweep.