The Colorado Buffaloes needed a bounce back performance after losing to Utah last week, and man, was this game something.
Colorado started the game with as much energy and intensity as they have all season. The disparity in energy alone was enough to take early control, but the Buffs played lockdown defense and made some tough shots en route to taking a 19-2 lead nine minutes into the game. Playing with such intensity isn’t sustainable, but it’s the best way to rattle a mercurial team like Arizona.
The Wildcats punched back, as expected. They couldn’t shoot 0% from the field all game, as they did during that 19-2 run. But Colorado hung in and matched them shot for shot. Credit goes to Evan Battey for bullying Arizona’s freshmen, and to McKinley Wright for being an unreal competitor.
As well as the Buffs were playing, foul trouble caught up to them. What started as a tight whistle, perhaps a one-sided whistle, saw all of D’Shawn Schwartz, Evan Battey, Jeriah Horne and Dallas Walton sit with two fouls apiece. (Jabari Walker was already out with an undisclosed injury.) With Alex Strating and Tristan da Silva as the only available bigs, the Buffs couldn’t rebound or protect the rim without fouling.
It shouldn’t have been a surprise that Colorado’s offense cooled off in the second half. The Buffs shot an absurd 8/11 from three in the first twenty minutes, which is never sustainable, particularly with the kinds of contested jumpers they were hitting. Those shots dried up, but so did the easier looks they converted earlier.
As the Buffs shot around 30% from the field, Arizona had no trouble scoring. They hit some open threes, worked the ball into the paint and made seven of their first nine shots. By the 11-minute mark, they were up 53-52, their first lead since the game began 2-0. It would be easy to credit Arizona for making those shots, but the Buffs allowing huge second half runs has been a feature, not a bug.
It’s past time to question why Colorado struggles in this way. Any player with a good handle can cut into the defense. And if that player is surrounded by teammates who are smart with their passing and off-ball movement, they can get easy bucket after easy bucket. And if those players start making contested shots in addition to those easy looks, the Buffs have absolutely no way of stopping them.
Arizona kept making their shots, and soon enough the Buffs started hitting theirs. The last ten minutes of this game became a high-scoring affair, Arizona leading by a few points throughout. There was tremendous pressure on every possession, because if the Buffs missed any shot, they knew Arizona would run away.
The Buffs stepped up to hit those critical shots. The first was Jeriah Horne making a contested three down 74-70, then Eli Parquet tied the game at 76 with his own triple, and finally McKinley Wright nailed a floater to take a 78-76 lead.
After Arizona tied it back up, it was Evan Battey in the clutch. The junior big made two free throws to go up 80-78. Then, after Arizona went 1 of 2 at the line, Battey made both free throws to ice the lead, all while limping from a nasty hit he took on the intentional foul. James Akinjo missed the desperation three and the Buffs had won.
CU is now 14-5 on the season, 8-4 in Pac-12 play, and have another impressive win on the tournament resume. The important thing is the resolve they showed tonight, particularly after collapsing against Utah last time out.
Next up for the Buffs will be a home game against the Oregon State Beavers on Monday.