Sweet, sweet revenge.
Like so many games this season, the Wildcats played in stretches.
They trailed by double figures early and led by double figures in the second half, before surviving a late Colorado rally to pick up the victory — one that was more gratifying than usual.
After Colorado beat UA earlier in the month, CU coach Tad Boyle said his team’s victory was extra satisfying because of Arizona’s involvement in a recruiting bribery scandal.
Arizona coach Sean Miller responded by saying he is only focused on coaching his team, and the two cordially greeted each other before and after Thursday’s game, but Miller and the Wildcats got the last laugh, winning their fifth straight.
Arizona improves to 17-4 overall and 7-1 in the Pac-12, affirming its spot atop the conference standings.
Allonzo Trier led Arizona with 23 points while Deandre Ayton had 20 points, making all 12 of his free throw attempts.
Dusan Ristic had 15 points and 8 rebounds, and Dylan Smith, filling in for the injured Rawle Alkins, made three 3s, finishing with 13 points.
Both teams shot 69 percent in the second half after the first 20 minutes were a defensive battle.
The game started just as it did when Arizona lost in Boulder three weeks ago.
The Wildcats struggled mightily against Colorado’s zone and missed 10 of their first 11 shots, falling behind by double digits midway through the first half.
Arizona only scored four points in the first eight minutes, but finally found a little bit of offense, thanks mostly to Ayton’s ability to get to the line.
The Wildcats made all eight free throw attempts in the first half, with Ayton sinking six of them.
Smith made the other two free throws and had seven first-half points. So did Trier who crossed up a defender and sank a mid-range jumper to knot the game at 22
Allonzo Trier out here putting defenders on skates pic.twitter.com/VlVHcOYiqo— Ryan Kelapire (@RKelapire) January 26, 2018
The Wildcats made five of their last six shots of the period, tying the game at 30 heading into halftime.
That momentum carried into the second half when Arizona started on a 15-4 run to gain some separation.
Boyle picked up a technical foul in frustration during that stretch, much to the McKale Center crowd’s delight.
But it seemed to spark Colorado which later made eight straight shots to trim Arizona’s lead to 60-59 with 7:06 left in regulation.
The Buffaloes’ made-shot streak extended to 11, but they were unable to slow down an equally potent Arizona offense that was hitting on all cylinders in the second half.
Trier had 14 second-half points and hit an off-balance 3 to extend UA’s lead to 74-68 with 2:22 left.
He had three assists to go along with his 23 points, too.
“That was one of the best games he’s played at Arizona,” Miller said. “I think when you look at the points he scored, not one turnover, they trapped him on every pick-and-roll he utilized and he was very, very efficient. ... He was an All-American type of player.”
Parker Jackson-Cartwright later delivered the dagger, sinking a deep 3 on a botched possession to push Arizona’s lead to 78-70 with less than a minute to play.
“We almost didn’t do anything right and sometimes the ball still goes in,” Miller said. “That’s happened against us as well, but both him and Allonzo I thought had tough, really challenged shots at the end and the fact they both went in helped us win.”
Those were Jackson-Cartwright’s only points all night, but he had four assists to one turnover.
The Wildcats only had five turnovers altogether and made 22 of 23 free throws.
Arizona’s bench was outscored 15-6, and all six of those points were scored by Ira Lee who had a solid showing.
George King led Colorado with 22 points on 9-12 shooting.
The Wildcats return to action Saturday when they host the Utah Utes at 3:30 p.m. MST.
Follow Ryan Kelapire on Twitter at @RKelapire