LAS VEGAS -- How much does an alley-oop dunk rock a team? Is Arizona doing more than beating on lesser teams?
View it how you want, but the Arizona Wildcats' 63-43 win against the Colorado Buffaloes Friday in the Pac-12 Tournament semifinals hinted toward the former. A day after the Wildcats played like they had rabies and earned the admission from Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak that he didn't know how to stop the bleeding, a similar showing roared UA past Tad Boyle's Buffs.
Rim-rocking dunks by Nick Johnson and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson grabbed the
McKale Center MGM Grand Garden Arena crowd, and a block by Aaron Gordon on Xavier Johnson was the tipping point. Johnson responded by fouling rebounder Kaleb Tarczewski after the play, a needless addition to a spiraling afternoon for Colorado.
The Buffs, like the Utes a day prior, admitted they were rocked.
"I think being on the court, it's definitely draining to an extent," CU guard Xavier Talton said of the big play by the Wildcats. "I think us as Colorado, what we do, we try to have mental toughness. I think it slipped a little bit today."
Colorado hung with Arizona by first taking away Tarczewski, who committed five turnovers in the first half and six for the game. It wasn't until 14 minutes remained that the Wildcats found their best selves.
They first showed signs of outright domination behind Gordon's defense in the first half. A swipe of CU forward Dustin Thomas led to Gordon tossing an alley-oop to Johnson, who finished with a one-handed crush. The very next play, Gordon took a rebound and on the push found Johnson on the left wing for a three-point make.
Like the Wildcats' win against Utah on Thursday, the three-point looks were there early on, and it was a matter of knocking a few down to open up a lead. UA went 4-for-10 in the first half and needed every last one -- the last coming from a Gabe York make in the final seconds of the first half.
Arizona led 27-24 at that point, and the triple to end the half answered an 11-2 Colorado run that tied that game at 24.
It took another six minutes of the second half for Arizona to get separation. The Wildcats ran off 13 straight and held the duo of Booker and Xavier Johnson quiet. After Johnson scored nine first-half points, the frustration of playing against UA's ratcheting up defense took its toll -- Xavier Johnson attempted to throw down his dunk on Gordon but was stuffed.
Wow! This is a stupendous shot of Gordon’s Hulk block. RT @ZonaZooOfficial No caption needed pic.twitter.com/boFOGZ2VUQ— Matt Norlander (@MattNorlander) March 15, 2014
Colorado went 5-of-22 from the floor in the second half and shot 29 percent for the game. The Wildcats hit 60 percent of their shots in the final 20 minutes.
As it was Thursday in a 71-39 win against Utah, "defense to offense" became the go-to phrase that defines the Wildcats at their best.
"We shared the ball," Miller said. "It was that combination that really broke the game open."
Miller called the offense in the first half "very, very average," but he liked how the Wildcats began setting harder screens and working to earn tough baskets in the second.
Nick Johnson led the Wildcats with 16, and T.J. McConnell added 12 points and five assists.
Hollis-Jefferson benefitted the most from the newfound ball movement, scoring 12 points and grabbing eight rebounds while playing the biggest role in a crucial 13-0 run that put the game out of reach for the Buffaloes. That stretch followed up the similar one by Gordon in the first half.
Gordon finished with nine points, nine rebounds, three steals, three blocks and three assists. After the game, he was asked if he would rush back to his room to see the highlight-reel block on Xavier Johnson.
"I want to race back to the hotel and see this game," he quipped, referring to the UCLA-Stanford matchup starting out in the arena. "I want to see who we're playing next."