After taking down No. 4 Arizona State on Thursday, the Colorado Buffaloes went back to work and upset the No. 14 Arizona Wildcats. The Buffs were superb on Saturday afternoon and never trailed the ultra-talented Wildcats.
Colorado has had a bad habit of starting the game ice cold, but against Arizona, they were inspired from the opening tip. The Buffs got on the board first with a George King three-pointer and never let up. Led by Dallas Walton’s 11 first half points on perfect shooting, the Buffs relentlessly attacked Arizona’s gargantuan interior. When they weren’t getting inside with ease, they were hitting shot after shot from outside.
Colorado’s hot shooting was a blast to enjoy, but it was the team defense that was the star of the first half. There are few things Tad Boyle hates more than zone defense, but he saw that it was the best way to get Arizona out of rhythm, and that it did. Colorado went with a 2-3 zone that collapsed on 7-footers Deandre Ayton and Dusan Ristic inside. If Arizona was going to score, they needed their perimeter players to create chances, but they settled for three-pointers that did simply would not fall. Colorado, though undersized, did everything they could to secure the defensive glass.
On his matchup against the Wildcats’ bigs in which he outplayed one of the most dominant players in college basketball, Walton said after the game, “The opportunity to match up against two pros [Ayton and Ristic] isn’t something you get every day. That’s what we all signed up for when we came to CU to play in the Pac-12.”
The Buffs shot 64% from the field while holding Arizona to just 30%. With great play on both sides of the ball, the Buffs led by as many as 20 points and went into halftime with the 45-29 lead.
Everyone knew that both teams would regress to the mean in the second half, it was just a matter of how much Colorado would slow them down and whether or not a 16-point lead was enough of a cushion.
Arizona wasted no time terrifying everyone in the building. Their shots finally started falling as Ayton arose from his first half slumber set on destroying everything in his path. On the other side of the floor, Arizona’s defensive length — most notably Ayton and Rawle Alkins — disrupted Colorado’s offensive flow. In 8 minutes, the Wildcats cut a 16-point lead down to 3 and looked ready take complete control of the game.
Colorado looked ready to blow their hard-earned lead as they had 8 turnovers in those 8 minutes, but just as it looked like they were going to fall behind, they stepped up to fight back. With the lead down to 3, D’Shawn Schwartz stepped up with a corner three that was followed by back-to-back layups by Dom Collier and McKinley Wright. Suddenly, CU had regained control and had the clock on their side.
The teams continued to fight down the stretch, but the Buffaloes were ones to truly step up in the clutch. Collier hit tough shot after tough shot and he was supported by big plays from Namon and McKinley Wright. Arizona continued to pry at the Colorado lead, but thanks to the Buffs coming through on late free throws, it was too little too late.
The Buffs now have consecutive wins over the two best teams in the Pac-12. Boyle said, “If we play the way we are capable of playing, we can play with anybody in this league.”
If Colorado continues to play with this energy and the Coors Events Center is even crazier when the students come back, there’s no reason to believe the Buffs can’t terrorize opposing teams at home the rest of the year.
The next challenge for the Buffs is to bring this level of play on the road. They take on USC and UCLA next week in Los Angeles that will show whether or not the Buffs we saw this weekend is the team to expect the rest of the season.