Here we are again, matched up with Arizona.
This is now the fourth time in five seasons the Buffs will play the Wildcats in the conference tournament. The first was in the 2012 Pac-12 championship during Colorado's shocking run. The second was a ten-point loss in the 2013 quarterfinals. The third was a 20-point loss in the 2014 semifinals.
Earlier this season, Colorado secured their season defining win over the Wildcats in an epic game that saw the CEC as rowdy as ever, much to the delight of Ralphie Report's resident attendance expert, Ted Chalfen.
The Buffs essentially guaranteed themselves a ticket to the Big Dance by taking care of Arizona State and Washington State in what could have been embarrassing losses. Now the Buffs can improve their tournament draw with another big win or two.
Of course, beating Arizona is a rather tricky thing to do. After getting swept on the Rocky Mountain Picture Horror Show, the Wildcats promptly went from overrated to underrated. Don't be fooled by the fickle polls or the conference tournament seeds: Arizona is an excellent squad and shan't be overlooked. Arizona isn't better than Oregon or Utah (as many thought fairly recently), but they can win this tournament and no one will blink. The fact that they're a 4-seed speaks volumes about the depth and quality of the Pac-12 this season.
The last time these two met, nothing showed that Colorado's win was flukish. It wasn't like Arizona's best players had atrocious games and some scrub on the Buffs had a career game. Ryan Anderson had an efficient 19-point, 10-rebound performance and played solid defense all game. Allonzo Trier and Zeus were both terrific in their own ways. Of all the Wildcats, only Gabe York had a regrettable game.
Colorado won because they played their best basketball of the season for 37 minutes. Scott had arguably the best game of his career. Josh Fortune and George King both made huge plays throughout the game. Wesley Gordon dominated on the offensive glass and did just enough defensive work against Anderson. Of all the Buffs, only Dom Collier noticeably struggled on offense, but he made up for it with incredible defense. As a team, Colorado did wonders for their chances by limiting turnovers to single digits.
Those remaining three minutes were sketchy as could be. Arizona went on a 7-0 run to cut the lead to three. With a chance to tie, Trier's buzzer-beating triple hit nothing but rim.
To win today, Colorado will have to execute their gameplan to perfection. There is no deafening crowd to make up for mistakes.
The last time I previewed Arizona, I broke down what is necessary for an upset, so I'll repeat what I wrote then with minor edits.
Wesley Gordon will likely be tasked with stopping Ryan Anderson. As good as a defender as Gordon is, I'm not sure if he'll be able to effectively neutralize the ever versatile power forward. Anderson won't shoot threes, but he's still an effective mid-range shooter, which could problematically pull Gordon away from the paint. Arizona's other big, Zeus "Zeus" Zeuszeuski, is getting better offensively, but he still has no range. As such, Josh Scott could sag off him and support Gordon in a partial double team of Anderson. If Anderson isn't slowed down, he can dominate the game.
Another matchup to watch will be the Josh Scott-Zeus "Zeus" Zeuszeuski battle on the Colorado side. Scott is as unstoppable as any post scorer in the country, but he has struggled against Zeus in the past. With a massive body and arms that reach all the way to the top of Mount Olympus, Zeus's calling card is his interior defense. If Scott struggles from the get-go, he'll look to draw fouls on the foul-prone behemoth. Besides Zeus, Arizona doesn't really have an answer for Scott, as we saw last time out.
Out on the perimeter lies yet another great matchup between George King and Arizona's Allonzo Trier. Once an unknown commodity, we know King as an uncontrollable and unpredictable wing scorer who can just as easily drop 25 as he can shoot 0-for-the-field with five turnovers. King just gashed Wazzu, so hopefully his hot hand will carry over.
As for Arizona, Trier is a potential game changer. He's a terrific athlete, but he won't beat anyone with brute athleticism. He's a respectable shooter, but he won't beat anyone with his range. Instead, Trier will beat you with savvy elusiveness. It's rare for someone so young to utilize change of pace and shiftiness in their drive game like he does. Once he's at the rim, he uses his strength, athleticism and acrobatics to finish in traffic. The best way to defend against a slasher of this kind is to balance containment with pressure. Contain to avoid getting beat off the dribble, but pressure to force bad shots and poor passes. This is harder said than done, so George King and company will need to be in it defensively to make this work.
As a whole, Colorado can't just sit back on defense and focus all their efforts on stopping Anderson and Trier inside. That's because of goblin mercenary Gabe York. If Colorado gives up the perimeter to shut down Arizona's other options, York will gladly play Hero Ball. With nifty ball handling and a lethal shot, York is dangerous. The best remedy for York disease (if he bites you, your skin will wither and your blood will turn to tar) is to pressure him into committing turnovers and shooting himself into a slump. If Dom Collier's recent lockdown defense is for real, he could effectively win this matchup by himself.
Assuming Colorado is able to limit turnovers (kind of a big assumption), winning these matchups are essential to pull off the sweep.
Colorado 69, Arizona 64