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Colorado falters in second half, loses to Arizona

No Justice for Sabatino this year.

NCAA Basketball: Colorado at Arizona Jacob Snow-USA TODAY Sports

The Colorado Buffaloes had high hopes resting on their game against the Arizona Wildcats. Faced with a three-game road trip, tonight was a chance to get a signature win and gain momentum for the rest of the trip. That did not go well, however, as the Buffs were gashed all night in their 88-74 loss.

The Buffs started this game focused on getting into the paint and rebounding the ball. Colorado jumped to an early 20-19 at the under 12 timeout because of their easy work inside. Evan Battey, called upon to test Arizona’s soft interior, crashed the offensive glass, spun circles around his defenders in the post, and even made a three, en route to a game-high 14 first half points.

While Battey was putting the ball in the basket, McKinley Wright was dazzling, as he does every night. But in the minutes he was resting, Colorado looked fantastic. That was because forwards Jabari Walker and Maddox Daniels came off the bench with hot hands, combining for 17 points in the half, including five made threes on just eight attempts. It goes without saying that it’s critical for the Buffs to have bench scorers capable of keeping them afloat without their best player, because as good as Wright is, he can’t do everything by himself.

The Buffs did everything right on offense in the first half, but they still trailed 50-44 at halftime. Veteran guards James Akinjo and Jemarl Baker were both excellent, cutting through the defense and hitting shots from deep. Nearly half of Arizona’s points came in the paint, where Christian Koloko and Jordan Brown had too easy of a time on post touches. CU certainly could have been better defensively — particularly in the post, where Christian Koloko and Jordan Brown had too easy of a time — but the ‘Cats just made shots.

After a buzzer-beater heave that went — and counted — Arizona had some control of the game after twenty minutes. That control would expand over the next five minutes. They tightened up their defense and forced some sloppy turnovers, then turned those steals into easy transition points. And just as Colorado started reeling, Akinjo buried two triples, giving him five made threes on five attempts. Sometimes it’s someone else’s night.

Colorado struggled to get anything going in the second half. They weren’t nearly as aggressive as the twenty minutes prior, often settling for jump shots instead of driving into the teeth of the defense. It didn’t help that Battey picked up his third and fourth fouls on ticky tack calls, but his presence alone would not have made up the difference. This team looked like they ran out of gas and didn’t react to Arizona’s defensive adjustments.

Wright tried putting the team on his back for a comeback effort, but every time he got a bucket, the Buffs gave two back. The team defense has been so good all season, but they were all over the place tonight. Arizona had a hot hand, made all their tough shots and took advantage in transition. They finished with 20 assists and shot 52.6% from the field. It was Arizona’s best game of the season, only CU kept up in the first half.

The Buffs will next play on Thursday when they take on the USC Trojans in Los Angeles. The Trojans have four wins against an easy schedule and one loss to the Connecticut Huskies. USC is a good team and they have the most talented played in the Pac-12, freshman forward Evan Mobley. Colorado will be tested as they try to redeem themselves after tonight’s loss.