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Buffaloes overpowered by Arizona, lose in Pac-12 Tournament

The Buffs were in good shape until McKinley Wright was injured.

NCAA Basketball: Pac-12 Conference Tournament - Arizona vs Colorado Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

The Colorado Buffaloes looked to continue their Pac-12 Tournament run and get past the top-seeded Arizona Wildcats, but that was always going to be a nearly impossible task. The Buffs put together a promising upset bid, but an injury to McKinley Wright doomed them in an unfortunate 83-67 loss.

Colorado started the game by carrying over their hot hand from yesterday’s thrilling victory over Arizona State. CU went on a quick 7-0 run to start the game and later had a 16-12 lead with 12 minutes left in the half. The Buffs were playing high-energy defense as they harassed Deandre Ayton down low. Led by McKinley Wright and Lucas Siewert, they were also cracking Arizona’s vaunted defense.

After Colorado’s quick jab, Arizona countered with a hook. Powered mostly by Ayton and Rawle Alkins doing mean things on defense and Parker Jackson-Cartwright hitting tough shots, the Wildcats went on a 15-2 run to take a 27-19 lead with 6 minutes to go. In what could have been a back-breaking run, the Buffs were scoreless for nearly five minutes. That was before George King busted out.

We don’t talk about King enough and that’s a travesty. He’s inconsistent, sure, but he has carried Colorado too many times to count. This was another instance of him catching fire and bringing the Buffs back into a game that nearly got out of control. He broke that aforementioned scoreless streak with a cold-blooded three, then he followed up by drilling another contested three, and then he tied the game at 29 apiece with a nasty floater, also in the face of future first round Rawle Alkins.

After King tied up the game, the Buffs fought with the ‘Cats in the final three minutes of the half. CU went into halftime down just 35-33. If they were going to pull of the upset, they needed to keep up their defense and come up with critical shots.

Unfortunately at halftime, Arizona realized that they have two destructive 7-footers (one of whom is basically David Robinson) who Colorado doesn’t have the size or strength to defend. Once Sean Miller freed up Ayton and Dusan Ristic to crash the glass and attack the rim, the Wildcats began to physically dominate the undersized Buffs. Even when Arizona missed, they destroyed CU on the offensive glass with 7 rebounds.

It also didn’t help the Buffs that they struggled horribly with Arizona’s length on the perimeter and committed 9 turnovers in the half, mostly on self-destructive live-ball giveaways. It was fitting to see Colorado collapse partly because of an issue they have struggled with for years.

Colorado did go on a run to make it a 3-point game with 13 minutes left, but that didn’t last because injury struck the Buffs in the worst way. McKinley Wright went up for an offensive rebound and rolled his ankle on the landing. Wright tested his leg and wanted back in, but the injury was severe enough to send him to locker room. He later returned to the bench, but he never came back into the game.

The Buffs showed fight after Wright left, but the game was over when he was injured. Colorado simply cannot recreate everything he does, especially his playmaking ability and relentless attitude, especially against a team as good as Arizona. After that injury, the Wildcats went on a 14-0 run, led by as many as 18 and eventually ran out the clock on a 83-67 win.

Now that Colorado is out of the Pac-12 Tournament, they will nervously wait to hear if they earned a berth in the NIT. I’m guessing their win over Arizona State was enough to put them in, but it’s difficult to say. Hopefully the season will continue and we can watch this wonderful Buffs teams compete in another high-stakes tournament.