Playing on national television against a rival on the road, the Colorado Buffaloes had a chance to make a statement. But the Buffs were overmatched and outplayed in a demoralizing blowout by the hands of the Arizona Wildcats.
The Buffs had a chance to strike early. They got early stops, moved the ball around the perimeter and found open looks. The issue is that they’re shooting didn’t make the trip to Arizona. CU shot just 1-7 from three in the first 9 minutes, and those were mostly open shots. They finished with 7 made threes on 23 attempts, so yeah.
The Buffs missed a couple easy buckets that could have made quite a difference. McKinley Wright was clearly fouled on a fast break pass, but refs didn’t call it and the pass sailed high. Moments later, Evan Battey got stripped on an open layup. Towards the end of the half, Wright was fouled on a fast break layup, it wasn’t called, then Dylan Smith hit a three immediately after to make it a 5-point swing.
If Colorado had made a couple of those threes and converted those open layups, they could have took the air out of the building. CU missed their chance to take control early in the game. Arizona adjusted defensively and walled off the paint with their length and athleticism; Colorado couldn’t work the ball inside without turning it over, and they too often settled for contested jumpers.
Soon enough, Arizona got hot. Their offense is one of the best in the nation because they can attack inside and out with everyone on the floor. Nico Mannion and Josh Green hit some difficult shots, Max Hazzard hit two deep threes to rile up the crowd, then Dylan Smith capped the run with transition threes.
When the Buffs did get stops, Zeke Nnaji could not be kept off the glass. He’s a pogo stick who can simply jump over anyone trying to box him out. He worked Tyler Bey on both sides of the floor, as his length bothered Bey every time he tried to attack. While Bey was getting bested, Battey got into foul trouble; they combined for 3 points and 1 rebound in the half, which epitomized Colorado’s struggles.
Colorado shot 32% from the floor, 25% from three, and couldn’t even win the boards. If McKinley Wright didn’t hit three difficult three-pointers — including a banked shot at the halftime buzzer — it would have been a lot worse than 34-23 at the half. Apart from their horrendous first half against Wyoming, this was probably CU’s worst half of basketball all season.
If the offense looked awful in the first half, it was abysmal in the second. Colorado at least worked for their shots early, but here they were shook by Arizona’s defensive length and rattled by the home crowd. No one could hit anything outside, so at times every one wearing black was sitting inside the arc, meaning the lane was too crowded for even a simple dribble-drive.
It wasn’t just Arizona’s length. They have superb help defense that crashes hard any time the ball gets inside. They usually don’t force turnovers, but they did here because the Buffs were forcing the ball into tight spaces. Turnovers are deadly against Arizona because of how gifted Mannion and Green are in transition. Smith also hit another transition three after Daylen Kountz missed a layup. The Wildcats didn’t hit many threes, but when they did, they were perfectly timed gut punches.
Colorado was okay on defense, apart from the 16 points off turnovers Arizona scored. The issue was on the boards, where they were out rebounded 39-25. Nnaji was everywhere and grabbed 7 offensive rebounds, compared to the 5 total rebounds for Bey and Battey combined. Colorado also lost the rebounding battle against Arizona State, giving up 17 offensive rebounds to one of the worst rebounding teams in the Pac-12, so this may be a concerning development. At least Lucas Siewert fought hard in his time on the floor.
Arizona ended up winning this one 75-54. It was so ugly that I opted to do the dishes instead of watching the final five minutes. Losing at Arizona is an expected loss every year, but this felt like the season in which Colorado could have won. At least CU won at Arizona State and split the road trip.
Colorado is now 14-4 and 3-2 in conference. Had they won, they likely would have moved into the Top 15 or higher — there were ten losses by teams ranked higher than CU this week, as of this writing — but now the Buffs have to move on and prove this loss wasn’t indicative of struggles to come. Next up is a home series against Washington State and Washington, both of which should be wins, but not if CU plays like they did today.