Arizona’s defense and dominant play inside has helped it get back in the Pac-12 title hunt, while Colorado’s poor shooting is keeping it from securing the resume builder it may need.
The ninth-ranked Wildcats look to keep pace atop the conference with their seventh straight victory Wednesday night against the Buffaloes, who have been difficult to beat in Boulder.
It looked like Arizona might fall short of winning three straight Pac-12 regular-season titles for the first time since a four-year run from 1987-1991 when it dropped to 4-4 in league play Jan. 28.
The squad allowed an average of 77.4 points on 44.2 percent shooting over its first eight league games before giving up 68.8 and 39.6 while winning its last six.
The Wildcats held sole possession of first place with last Wednesday’s 99-61 home win over Arizona State before Oregon moved into a tie on Saturday. Arizona limited the Sun Devils to 32.3 percent from the field while outscoring them by 38 in the paint and outrebounding them 50-26.
”We have a lot of answers around the basket and we have a number of perimeter players who can really drive the ball,” coach Sean Miller said after his club made 21 of 29 from the field in the second half. ”We’re attacking the area of the court you really want to attack.”
Allonzo Trier had 20 points and eight rebounds, Ryan Anderson added 15 and eight and Kaleb Tarczewski pulled down a career-best 15 boards and blocked four shots. Trier, who returned from a month-long absence due to a broken hand on Feb. 6, has averaged 17.3 points in his last three games.
Tarczewski has been a force with 11.8 boards per game in his last five for Arizona (22-5, 10-4), which ranks second in the nation with a plus-11.4 rebounding margin. Parker Jackson-Cartwright has been steady at point guard, totaling 25 assists and six turnovers in the past six.
“They’re playing with great passion, they’re playing with great competitiveness, they’re playing with great energy and effort – all the things that I’ve been talking about with our team that we’re looking for,” Colorado coach Tad Boyle told the school’s official website.
The Buffaloes allowed UCLA to shoot 50 percent and hold a 24-14 edge in paint points in Saturday’s 77-53 road defeat that dropped them into sixth place. They were outworked 39-37 on the glass despite entering with the league’s second-best rebounding margin at plus-9.6.
They could have a tough time avoiding a season-high third straight loss if they don’t get on track offensively. Colorado (19-9, 8-7) shot a season-low 31.1 percent and Josh Scott, who averages a team-high 16.4 points, was held to nine – the first full game he failed to reach double figures.
The Buffaloes, who have shot a combined 38.6 percent over their last seven games, have lost four straight on the road but are riding a six-game winning streak at home. A marquee victory over Arizona could go a long way toward earning their fourth NCAA berth in the past five years.
“We put ourselves in good position, but we’re in a position where we need some quality wins down the stretch,” Boyle added. “You can’t ask for a more quality win than Arizona.”
The Wildcats, however, have won the past six meetings by an average of 18.5 points, and Colorado has lost 11 straight against ranked opponents.