The No. 4 seed raced its way to the championship game and needed a win to secure an NCAA Tournament bid in a tumultuous down year. Standing in Arizona's path was a Colorado Buffaloes team wanting to show the rest of the Pac-12 that it belonged.
Colorado won, Arizona earned an NIT bid and flopped in the first round, and that was that.
Then, the Buffs took a golden opportunity to make a statement to end their first year of Pac-12 play. Now in 2014, the Wildcats are a lock to earn a No. 1 NCAA Tournament seed, and the Buffs want to get completely off the NCAA Tournament bubble. Colorado coach Tad Boyle sees another opportunity on Friday, quite obviously under different circumstances.
"I told the guys in the locker room, 'All you can ask for in life is a opportunity,' " Boyle said.
Back in 2012, then-freshman guard Askia Booker didn't play much, but he's become the main man three years later with backcourt mate Spencer Dinwiddie out with a knee injury. Colorado and Arizona meet again, this time in the semi-final round, and though the Wildcats have their NCAA Tournament No. 1 seed locked up, the Buffs want more.
They see playing Arizona as a good thing, no matter UA's 71-39 crushing of the Utah Utes on Thursday.
"It's a great rivalry in my eyes," Booker said after CU dropped Cal. "They have great guards. I'm going to take on that challenge …. it's not just about me and my rivalry. It's about the team."
So can Colorado do what Utah didn't?
Making shots is the No. 1 key, as silly and simple as it sounds. Early on against Arizona on Thursday, the Utes got a few shots at the rim that were contested and didn't drop. They had some decent jumpers, but nothing was open or easy, and the misses snowballed into the final result.
Booker and Xavier Talton, who replaced Dinwiddie in the starting lineup, carried CU well on Thursday, combining for 30 points. But Colorado hasn't scored more than 64 in a regulation game in the past seven games. The Buffaloes do have a more substantial ability to throw it in the block compared to Utah, and Boyle said he'd like his team to play inside-out.
Josh Scott and Xavier Johnson both took a while to get rolling against Cal, and the second half could be too late against Arizona.
"Best defensive team in our league, it's not even close," Boyle said of Arizona. "We're going to have to guard Arizona like they guard everybody else.
"Arizona's a good team, but we're a good team too."
Offensively, the Buffaloes are running more motion sets, hoping to allow their playmakers to make plays. Arizona comes off stopping one of the league's best playmakers in Delon Wright, who was blitzed coming off ball-screens and seemingly was lost in the shuffle of a rout.
On the other side of the ball, the Buffaloes have locked in on defense, and against the Golden Bears there was a savvy about them. Cal's Justin Cobbs and Tyrone Wallace got rolling in the second half, and attempted to out-muscled the smaller CU backcourt by pushing the ball up the court, but the Buffs never lost control -- there was a calmness about them.
Even calmness might not be enough to stop Arizona, which looked like the team that ripped through the mountain schools in the regular season a few weeks ago. Guard Nick Johnson said the loss to Oregon that ended the regular season helped.
"It just refocused us a little bit," he said. "We got into it in practice a little bit, had some work to get done. Our three goals were to win the regular season Pac-12 championship, win here and get this one, and then go from there."
6 p.m. MST