The Arizona Wildcats opened the game with a 13-2 run, preventing the Colorado Buffaloes from scoring for almost the first four minutes of the game. After more than twelve minutes of play, Colorado had still only managed six points against Arizona’s smothering defense.
This game should have been over at halftime, as Arizona led 37-20 over a Colorado team that resembled nothing of the Colorado squad that beat the Wildcats back on February 24th. But the Buffaloes played much better in the second half whereas the Wildcats faltered. Ultimately, though, Colorado couldn’t overcome its poor performance in the first half, and the Wildcats won 82-78 to set up a rematch with the Oregon Ducks in the Pac-12 Tournament semi-final.
Here are three things we learned from Arizona’s win:
Arizona’s defense may have been the best it’s been all season. The Wildcats blocked shots, took charges, and swiped steals. As a team, Arizona blocked eleven shots, three of them by Ryan Anderson, who produced his 17th double-double of the season. The Wildcats also totaled seven steals, with Ryan Anderson and Gabe York accounting for two each.
There really wasn’t much this defense didn’t do -- in the first half, that is -- but we’ll get to the second half in a minute.
Overall, the Wildcats held the Buffaloes to 34.2% from the floor and 26.3% from deep. Colorado missed its first six 3-pointers.
Arizona’s defense has been more unreliable than a weather forecast all season. Like Forrest Gump says, you never know what you’re going to get. It’s impossible to predict what kind of defense Arizona will bring to the floor on any given night. But one thing is certain -- when Arizona plays the kind of defense it did against Colorado, and its offense is at least fairly decent, it is probably the best team in the Pac-12.
Allonzo Trier suffers no freshman jitters
Sometimes freshmen excel during the regular season, but once tournament play rolls around they freeze up, as if blinded by the sudden bright lights of the big stage. So far, Trier seems to be immune to these bright lights. Against Colorado he scored 23 points, and shot 3-4 from deep and 6-11 from the field. He was also 8-9 from the line, hitting two of these free throws with 32 seconds remaining to extend Arizona’s lead to six. If there was any time for Trier to get rattled, it was then, but he was completely unfazed.
He only had two boards, three assists, and one steal, close to his averages, but as long as he continues shooting this well, he could lead his team very far in both tournaments.
Inconsistencies are still a problem
Arizona was energetic and tenacious in the first half against Colorado, both offensively and defensively, but its effort on both offense and defense dropped in the second half and it allowed the Buffaloes to pull within two points with two seconds left in the game.
In typical fashion, Arizona’s turnovers and a lackadaisical mindset allowed Colorado to sneak back into it. The Wildcats finished with 15 turnovers, which have been as much of a sore point all season as their defense. They also were outrebounded 51-35. Arizona have a scary post presence with the combination of Ryan Anderson and Kaleb Tarczewski, but, while they each grabbed eleven rebounds, no else had more than three (Dusan Ristic).
And although they shot 50% from deep and almost 46% from the floor, the Wildcats simply looked lost on offense in the second half. On more than a couple occasions, players did not find the wide open player near the basket. If Arizona would have played with just as much intensity in the second half as it did in the first half, it would have embarrassed the Buffaloes right out of the arena. That’s how dominating it was, and that’s also how maddening it is because no matter how much head coach Sean Miller stresses playing for 40 minutes, it never quite can. Because of these inconsistencies, this Arizona team is just as capable of being upset in the first round of the NCAA tournament as it is winning the whole thing.