The third time wasn’t the charm for the University of Colorado men’s basketball team Friday night as it lost, 63-43, to the University of Arizona in the semifinals of the Pac-12 tournament. Colorado (23-11, 10-8) was looking for revenge against the Wildcats (30-3, 15-3) after a tough loss at home less than a month ago.
Colorado now waits for its name to be called this Sunday for selection in the NCAA tournament. Projections have the Buffs looking at an eight, nine or 10-seed.
Forty-three scored points was easily a season-low for Colorado, beating a total of 51 at Arizona State University on Jan. 25. The lack of points in this situation may come as less of a surprise, as Arizona is third in the nation in scoring defense and Colorado hasn’t scored more than 64 points in regulation in its last eight games.
The first half was filled with stout defense and timely shooting for the Buffs. Colorado was only down 27-24 at halftime. When T.J. McConnell made a three-pointer, it looked as if Arizona would pull away when they took a 22-13 lead with 6:08 left before the break. But sophomore forward Xavier Johnson responded with a three of his own, silencing the predominantly pro-Arizona crowd that was on its feet. The Wildcats’ momentum ceased there, and the game was hotly contested for the remainder of the half.
The second half, consistent with the Buffs’ season-long trend of declining performances after the break, was not as kind. Arizona went on a 13-0 run until only 7:58 minutes were left and outscored Colorado 36-19 overall in the half.
“In the second half, that thing got away from us quick,” head coach Tad Boyle said after the game. “If Arizona makes shots and the way they guard consistently, they’ve got a chance to win a national championship.”
Colorado was out-rebounded 41-25, eliminating one of the Buffs’ usual strong suits. Junior point guard Askia Booker led the Buffs in rebounds with six. Freshman forward Wesley Gordon and sophomore forward Josh Scott, usually dominating reounders, only grabbed two boards each.
“I think we had great defense, we just couldn’t get a rebound, and it’s hard to get out in transition and run and get easy baskets when they’re jumping over your backs and they’re dunking the ball,” Booker said. “Those are big momentum swings.”
Booker struggled in scoring from the field. He only shot 4-14, but still managed to lead the team with 12 points.
“I think being on the court is definitely draining to an extent,” Xavier Johnson said. “But us as Colorado and what we try to do, we try to have mental toughness, and I think it slipped a little bit today.”
Assuming the Buffaloes receive an invite to the NCAA Tournament, Colorado will play next Thursday or Friday, with the location to be determined. It would be the third tournament appearance in a row for Colorado, the longest streak in program history.
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Jared Funk-Breay at Jared.Funkbreay@colorado.edu.