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Colorado vs. Arizona final score: Nick Johnson leads smart win for UA

Nick Johnson scored 18 points, Brandon Ashley added 15, and Arizona's defense looked as good as usual.

Christian Petersen

It doesn't seem like pressure is mounting behind the Arizona basketball team. The No. 1 Wildcats beat the Colorado Buffaloes, 69-57, on Thursday at McKale Center like they're beaten most other teams this season.

Defense, stable emotions and excellent guard play did it again.

Arizona played smart across the board, even if it never quite put a foot to Colorado's throat.

It wasn't flawless, but it certainly wasn't frustrating or stressful. And if we're talking about flaws, Sean Miller's crew certainly didn't have any that were dictated by anything other than the game's flow. They didn't beat themselves. Colorado, without an experienced ball-handler outside Askia Booker, was lost.

The Wildcats took what was given to them.

They assisted on 16 of their 29 made shots and only had six turnovers. The Buffs meanwhile recorded four assists and coughed it up 14 times leading to 23 Arizona points.

Arizona tied a program-best 19 wins in a row and scored the first nine points to build an 18-4 lead early on. The Buffs put up a 10-2 run to reel the Wildcats back in it, but throughout the game, UA responded to several CU runs. In the first half, the Buffaloes certainly looked lost without Spencer Dinwiddiejust as we expected. They seemed overwhelmed and trailed 39-24 at halftime.

But if there was any silver lining for CU, it was the emergence of sophomore forward Xavier Johnson in the second half.

Johnson scored 21 points, went 7-of-12 from the floor and hit 4-of-5 three-point shots. He and Aaron Gordon seemed to develop a rift, with Gordon spinning and dunking around the Buffs, and Johnson both attacking the rim and showing off his range. Gordon's defense wasn't bad per se, but Johnson did find some holes in Arizona's defense.

Maybe Miller's team was just cruising by the second half. CU outscored Arizona 33-30 in the final 20 minutes and shot 48 percent after failing to shoot at 30 percent in the first half -- the law of averages can be applied here, of course.

Nick Johnson led Arizona with 18 points, while Brandon Ashley scored 15. Gordon finished with 12 points, four boards and three assists. Yet, the Arizona backcourt of Johnson and T.J. McConnell ultimately was the most beneficial factor in the win for Sean Miller's team.

The interior passing again took a step forward. Between dump-offs on drives and passing from big men between one another, the frontcourt separated itself from Colorado's talent.

Without Dinwiddie, Colorado didn't handle the ball pressure well. Booker scored 11 points but with freshman starting shooting guard Jaron Hopkins combined to go 5-for-18 from the floor. In total, the Wildcats hit 49.2 percent of their shots to the Buffaloes' 37.3 percent by the end of the game.

Beyond UA playing streaky ball in the second half, the only other quibble would probably include a lack of dimensions offensively.

The Wildcats only got to the foul stripe 13 times, and they went 3-for-15 from three-point range. Perhaps the defense by Tad Boyle's team made UA's offense look better than it is. Arizona wasn't often challenged and shot 59 percent from two-point range. Arizona outscored Colorado 44-26 in points in the paint.

There's the evidence that Arizona took the easy shots given to it.

The interior passing again took a step forward. Between dump-offs on drives and passing from big men between one another, the frontcourt separated itself from Colorado's talent. Where Josh Scott scored 13 points and grabbed 11 rebounds alongside Xavier Johnson, freshman big Wesley Gordon went 0-for-6 from the floor.

Arizona's Ashley went 6-for-7 from the floor, and four UA players recorded a team-high three assists.

Perhaps the most telling of all the above was Kaleb Tarczewski taking a bad entry pass with a smaller Colorado player on his back. He caught it and spun baseline, and though he was already close to going out of bounds, took one dribble and with help coming for the Buffs, swung a lefty pass under the hoop to find Gordon for a dunk that gave UA a 22-14 lead.

The play was indicative of the selfless nature Miller's team has developed. McConnell finished hitting 1-for-5 shooting and he had just three assists, but you know his impact has been a season-long deal. On Thursday, it was Tarczewski showing a little flash of his point guard's instincts.

With that, Arizona showed another flash of why they're just so hard to beat.