The momentum is mounting and expectations are once again out of the gutter.
The Arizona Wildcats dropped the Colorado Buffaloes 71-57 on Thursday night to make it three in a row against squads that were hoping to move to the front of the Pac-12 pack. Solomon Hill added 16 points and 14 rebounds, Jesse Perry put in 17 and 11, and guard Kyle Fogg added 15 points to make a case that Sean Miller's pleading for veteran leadership early in the season is going to come by not one of them, but all of them.
Yet, it was again freshman big man Angelo Chol that made a marked difference. As I believed earlier in the week, his presence -- eight points and two blocks -- especially on the defensive end gives UA a tool it had been searching for this season, almost in a state of panic.
With an injury-depleted roster, Miller went seven players deep and all five starters recording at least 30 minutes of playing time.The Wildcats, per usual, struggled to shoot the ball, and against a stifling defense of Colorado, it wasn't unexpected. Shooting 43.8 percent from the field and hitting only 3-of-16 from three-point range, Arizona countered Tad Boyle's team by holding the Buffs to 37.3 percent from the field and 21.1 percent accuracy from beyond the arc.
Free throws played a role in the last meeting between the two teams. Arizona missed them, and Colorado made them pay. On Thursday, Arizona went to the line 35 times to CU's 14 attempts, a difference that you could likely equate as a measurement of aggression.
Hill himself was a big part of that, getting to the line eight times (though he hit only three) by attacking the glass and not settling for mid-range jumpers. He and Perry grabbed four offensive rebounds apiece, and the duo along with Chol only gave up seven offensive boards to double-double machine Andre Roberson and his teammates.
Also unlike the last meeting in Boulder was the perimeter defense.
Kyle Fogg helped quiet guard Carlon Brown to 11 points and 0-for-5 from behind the three-point line, taking him out of the position to make it a game as the Wildcats pulled away late in the second half.
The victory goes beyond one win of course. The Wildcats are looking like an NCAA tournament-capable team right now, and with a 17-8 overall record (8-4 in Pac-12 play) the six games remaining contain three very winnable games and three 50-50 match-ups.
Assuming favorited Cal picks up the likely win against USC, Arizona will be one game behind the Golden Bears, and if the Oregon Ducks can upset the Washington Huskies to tie with with Cal in first (the score is 26-12 halfway through the first half at this point) nothing appears to be out of reach for the Wildcats.