The last time the Arizona Wildcats squared off against the Colorado Buffaloes, Kaleb Tarczewski and Gabe York were fixtures in Arizona’s starting lineup.
OK, that’s not true, but it has at least felt that way to Sean Miller.
“We haven’t played Colorado in a long, long time in terms of this season because we only played them at home and we played Utah and Colorado what seems like a year ago,” the UA head coach said Monday at his weekly press conference.
Because of the Pac-12’s rotating schedule, Arizona only played Colorado once this season, when the Wildcats beat the Buffaloes 82-73 on Jan. 7 in McKale Center.
But they will get another crack at each other on Thursday in the Pac-12 Tournament quarterfinals after seventh-seeded Colorado beat tenth-seeded Washington State 73-63 in the opening round of the tourney on Wednesday.
“They’re obviously playing a lot better now,” Miller said Monday of Colorado, which was 0-3 in Pac-12 play after its loss to Arizona. “When we played them, it was the beginning of their losing streak. If we play them again, it would be a team that would go 9-3 in their last 12. I’d say they’re playing well.”
The Buffs were once 0-7 in the Pac-12 and 10-10 overall, but they finished the regular season at 8-10 and 18-13, respectively.
“They have as much experience and size (as anyone),” Miller said. “And Derrick White, he’s an All-Pac-12 player and a senior. Tad [Boyle] is a really good coach.”
Back in January, Miller called White an “NBA guard,” and he sure looked the part against WSU. The senior had 26 points, five assists, and five rebounds in CU’s win over WSU, taking over the game as the Buffaloes erased a 14-point halftime deficit.
The 6-foot-5 guard leads Colorado in scoring (17.3 PPG) this season, though he did not have a strong outing against Arizona in January.
He only posted seven points on seven shots against the Wildcats in McKale as Kadeem Allen turned in a stellar defensive performance. White will be looking to bounce back on Thursday.
The players who did hurt Arizona in January were senior guard Xavier Johnson and senior forward Wesley Gordon.
Johnson, who is not shy about his disdain for Arizona, scored 26 points and grabbed six rebounds as he drained four 3-pointers. He is averaging 14.5 points per game while shooting 49 percent from the field and 39 percent from 3 this season.
Gordon, who is fourth in the Pac-12 in offensive rebounding percentage, had 16 points (6-8 shooting) and nine rebounds.
The Buffaloes are ranked as the No. 71 team in the country, per KenPom, meaning they won’t exactly be a cakewalk for an Arizona team that ranks 21st.
“There’s always surprises, especially with what’s at stake,” Miller said of a potential upset. “We have a couple teams in these early rounds that are playing for the NCAA Tournament and all of us are playing for high seeds and whoever wins the Pac-12 Tournament, it’s a great accomplishment, so I think you’ll see an incredible environment in Las Vegas.”
Arizona has faced Colorado five times in the last six Pac-12 Tournaments, with its only loss to the Buffaloes being in Los Angeles in 2012. In total, the Wildcats have won eight of the last nine matchups against the Buffs, with Colorado beating Arizona in Boulder last February.
“The one thing we know about Arizona, they're very efficient,” Boyle said. “They don't beat themselves. You have to go beat Arizona, and the way you beat them is to be rock solid defensively. You have to be efficient offensively, and you better compete your tails off on the backboards because they're a very good rebounding team and they have great size.
“So it’s a great challenge. I think it's five out of our six years in this tournament we're facing Arizona. So I talked about that with Sean a couple weeks ago, and here we are again.”
Tad talks Trier
Allonzo Trier did not play in the first matchup between the two teams, as he was still suspended for testing positive for a performance-enhancing drug.
The sophomore guard is averaging 23.3 points per game in the last four games and has overtaken Lauri Markkanen as Arizona’s leading scorer.
“We're a different team. They're a different team,” Boyle said. “They've got Allonzo Trier back, and he's back in the flow of what they're doing. So that game seems like it was a lifetime ago because it was early January, and now here we are in early March, it's two months later.
“So I think you're going to see a different Arizona team and probably a different Colorado team. It's beyond, I think, Xs and Os now, I think. Our guys know what they need to do to be successful. Now it's just a matter of going out and executing and getting the job done.”
The winner of Thursday’s game will play Friday at 9:30 p.m. MT against the winner of the UCLA-USC game.
Miller excited to see T-Mobile Arena
The Pac-12 Tournament is being played in the brand new T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas this season instead of the MGM Grand Arena.
The T-Mobile Arena, which sits between the New York-New York and Monte Carlo hotels just west of the strip, can hold up to 18,000 fans for basketball games.
According to its official site, the T-Mobile Arena has over 50 suites, more than two dozen private loge boxes, a two-acre outdoor plaza, free WiFi, and a bevy of concession areas.
“I’m actually really excited to go to the new arena,” Miller said. “It’s a world-class facility, it’s brand new. There aren’t many conference tournaments that have that as the setting, especially in a city like Las Vegas that loves college basketball, so I know it should be a great atmosphere.
This weekend will be Miller’s first time stepping foot in the venue.
“I’ve only driven by it,” he said. “I’ve heard nothing but great things about it, though.”
Viewing info for Thursday’s game
Time: 7 p.m. MST
TV: Pac-12 Networks
Live stream: Pac-12 Networks Live
Announcers: Ted Robinson, Bill Walton (!), Lewis Johnson
How they matchup
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