This time locking up in McKale Center, the Buffs didn’t make it easy but Arizona got a bit revenge with an 80-71 win to improve to 17-4 on the season and 7-1 in the Pac-12.
It’s not all roses for the first-place ‘Cats though, as they had plenty of struggles through this hard-fought victory.
Let’s go through three up and three down from Arizona’s win:
Ristic continues to impress as he followed up an excellent performance against Stanford with another beaut against the Buffaloes.
Ristic went for 15 points on 7-of-8 shooting and pulled down eight boards.
His touch around the rim has been spot-on of late but in addition to that, Dusan’s jumper has been silky smooth. He’s scored in double figures in eight of the last nine games. Over that time, he’s averaging 13 points and eight rebounds while shooting nearly 55 percent from the floor.
It doesn’t end there, though. Dusan treated us to some Point Ristic action on Thursday night. He tossed a dime to Deandre Ayton for an alley-oop and he also did this…
The greatest sequence of Dusan Ristic's career pic.twitter.com/IdmgptiPit— Ryan Kelapire (@RKelapire) January 26, 2018
Now that’s something we can get used to seeing over these next two months.
While I can’t help but blame Trier for some of Arizona’s zone woes as he is typically the guy choosing to stand around instead of attack and then settle for a deep 3-pointer, Zo is a flat-out brilliant scorer.
When Arizona’s offense was halted early on in the half-court, they clawed back by getting out and running off Colorado misses. This led to Trier putting on a show.
When Trier gets out in transition, few in a Wildcat uniform have been able to do the things he does. His ballhandling is so smooth as he put multiple Buffaloes on spaghetti legs on Thursday night. And his body control when he gets to the rim is spectacular. Trier can hang in the air and find the perfect angle while absorbing contact. It’s truly a sight to see.
He led the team with 23 points and he added three assists while not turning the ball over once. Speaking of turnovers…
The little things
With all the wonderful advanced stats and analytics we have access to now, it’s easy to dive deep and figure out what you need for a win. But still on occasion, you have to rely on old-school basketball knowledge.
Old-school basketball thought is pretty simple — make your free throws and don’t turn the ball over, and you’ll likely come out with a win.
Arizona followed the old rules on Thursday night, making 22-of-23 from the charity stripe, led by Deandre Ayton’s perfect 12-for-12.
The Wildcats also only turned the ball over five times, tying a season-low. It was just the fourth time that Arizona had single-digit turnovers this season.
PJC put the game away on Thursday night by recovering a loose ball and knocking down a deep 3-pointer in the face of intense defensive pressure to go up by eight with only a minute remaining.
That was his first and only bucket of the night as he finished with three points, two rebounds and four assists.
But this isn’t really about a stat line or the fact that he played 36 minutes and didn’t score for the first 35. He’s not out there to score. In fact, Jackson-Cartwright had a fine game.
But his main goal out there is to push the offense forward and there were multiple times against Colorado where Jackson-Cartwright elected to slow the ball down and settle into the half-court.
With all the issues Arizona has had against zone defenses in the half-court, it was frustrating to see a Wildcat big grab a defensive rebound and immediately hand off to PJC as the capable wings, generally Trier and Dylan Smith streaked down the sides of the court. There were moments that Arizona had numbers on the Buffaloes and Jackson-Cartwright simply decided to pull up his dribble and settle the offense down.
The Wildcats are going to have a speed and athleticism advantage on arguably every other team in the Pac-12. The floor general needs to be ready to utilize that by pushing the offense into fast breaks when the opportunities are there.
Ayton’s shot selection
We have to come up with something negative to say at some point about the Wildcats’ freshman phenom.
We’re back to that speed and athleticism advantage thing again and the fact that Arizona isn’t great at utilizing it.
When Deandnre Ayton drives, he can take his opponent’s milk money just about anytime he wants.
But too often, Ayton will catch the ball in the high post, check his options, jab step and then launch a jumper. Ayton can make those and he has all season but it’s not his best shot, especially in a one-on-one situation. They weren’t falling on Thursday night, assisting in Ayton finishing just 4-of-10 from the floor.
Plus, defenses are catching on to this Ayton habit. As of late, when Ayton catches in the high post and scans his options around the floor, a second defender is cheating over and getting a hand in, most times successfully rattling the ball loose.
It would be nice to see Ayton catch and immediately put the ball on the floor, attacking the defender and going toward the rim for what will most times end up as an easy flush.
Perhaps we’ll see that next time out, Saturday against Utah. After all, Ayton struggled through strep throat this week and missed some practice time. Sean Miller said in his post-game press conference, “On Saturday, he’ll return to form.” He still scored 20 points against Colorado so who knows what returning to form will look like.
Another slow start
Blame the zone defense all you want, Arizona came out flat once again.
They scored just four points through the first eight minutes and trailed by 10 halfway through the first half.
While Arizona clearly knows how to pull themselves out of these funks, it’s a dangerous game to play. Thursday night worked out just fine for the Wildcats but the last time they played the Buffaloes, they dug themselves a hole so deep early on that they couldn’t come back from it.
If the Wildcats remain susceptible to these droughts, it’s only a matter of time before they get bit once again. And if it needs to happen, it’d be best if it were soon. This is certainly something that needs to be figured out before March arrives.