After having an opening round bye, the fourth-seeded Arizona Wildcats will make their Pac-12 Tournament debut in Las Vegas on Thursday afternoon against the fifth-seeded Colorado Buffaloes. The Buffaloes, who beat Washington State handily in the opening round, beat the Wildcats just two weeks ago in Boulder, Colorado in the only game these teams played against each other this season.
This time around, however, Colorado will not have the luxury of playing on its home court, and it'll be playing for the second day in a row, opening the possibility for fatigue.
The Wildcats are looking to repeat as Pac-12 Tournament champions, and while both teams are likely to make the NCAA Tournament, a few wins in this tournament will certainly help bolster their resumés and perhaps lead to a better seeding.
That being said, here's who/what to watch for in this 4-5 matchup and how/when to watch it.
Who to watch
Josh Scott is definitely the guy to watch. If you recall, Scott obliterated the Wildcats' frontcourt earlier this season, scoring 26 points on 10-18 shooting while grabbing nine rebounds and blocking three shots in the Buffs' 75-72 win over Arizona. No matter who the Wildcats threw at him that night, it wasn't effective. Scott was either too strong or quick for Ryan Anderson and Dusan Ristic, and was a tough cover for Kaleb Tarczewski because of Scott's ability to stretch the floor.
Needless to say, the Wildcats, even if they can't stop him, will have to do a better job of at least limiting Scott.
Naturally, the second player to watch is Scott's front court partner, Wesley Gordon. While Gordon isn't close to being the same type of offensive player that Scott is, Gordon is a tremendous rebounder. He averages 10 rebounds per 36 minutes, and has an offensive rebound percentage of 11.8, which, for reference, is comparable to Ryan Anderson's percentage.
Gordon had seven (!) offensive rebounds against Arizona last game and he and Scott out-rebounded Tarczewski and Anderson, 21-17. It's rare that an opposing front court out-rebounds the Wildcats' massive front court, but this Colorado team is obviously capable of doing it, and Scott and Gordon are the reasons why.
Aside from the Buffaloes' front court, they're also a particularly dangerous team because of how well they shoot the 3-ball. As a team, they shoot a spectacular 39.6 percent from that range.
Starting guards George King, Xavier Talton, and Dominique Collier shoot a good number of threes, and hit a high percentage of them. King is the most dangerous as he shoots 45.3 percent from 3, while Talton and Collier shoot 39.6 percent and 44.2 percent, respectively.
Arizona can't afford to fall asleep on defense, and it also makes it tougher to guard Scott and Gordon since it wouldn't be smart to double off of one of the guards.
What to watch
The key for Arizona is slowing down Josh Scott. The problem is, the Wildcats don't have an ideal defender to do that. Take a look at Scott's shot chart (via ShotAnalytics.com):
The challenge that Scott presents is that not only can he score in the paint because of his size and strength, but he has a very solid mid-range game and he's even capable of extending out to the 3-point line. We know that Tarczewski has trouble guarding on the perimeter, so he's not a great matchup against Scott, but Dusan Ristic isn't strong or quick enough to deal with Scott either. Perhaps Ryan Anderson or Chance Comanche could try to check him, but Anderson, as we know, isn't a stellar defender, and frankly, we don't know how much Comanche will even play.
I think Tarczewski has the best shot because at least he can deter Scott from going to the rim, but it also means that Scott will probably have an 18-footer available whenever he wants it. But I think you can live with that if you're Arizona.
Another key for Arizona to win is to run Colorado off the 3-point line.
As you can see above, the Buffaloes are a terrific 3-point shooting team, but move them inside the 3-point line, and they're not very effective. Colorado's guards, while they are dangerous shooters, are not great playmakers or slashers. Running them off the 3-point line and out of their comfort zone would be a great step in slowing down the Buffs' offense. The Wildcats did hold Colorado to 5-15 from the 3-point line last game, so they've proven they can do it, but they have to do a better job of preventing second-chance points this time. The Buffaloes grabbed 14 offensive rebounds and had 17 second-chance points last game.
And finally, the last thing to watch for is a Gabe York revenge game. York was dreadful against Colorado last game, as he went 4-14 from the field and had a crucial turnover when Arizona had a chance tie the game late in the second half. But now, York has a chance to make up for that poor performance, and this is the perfect time to do that. York is playing the best basketball of his career right now. On senior weekend in McKale Center this past weekend, York averaged 25 points per game, which, of course, included a 32-point outburst against Stanford in which he hit nine 3-pointers.
While it would be unfair to expect York to repeat that, Arizona simply needs him to be better than he was last time versus Colorado, and, considering how hot he is right now, I expect him to be able to do it.
Time: 3:30 PM PST
TV: Pac-12 Network
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