The win puts ASU’s tournament hopes in shambles and gives the Buffs a chance for their second Arizona sweep of the season as they will now square off with the Arizona Wildcats in the Pac-12 Tournament quarterfinal on Thursday at 1 p.m. MST.
Arizona comfortably won the Pac-12 regular season by two games, finishing 14-4, but one of those four losses came at the hands of these Buffaloes.
Back in early January, Colorado beat Arizona State and Arizona back-to-back, sending the Devils to their second straight loss after a 12-0 start and ending the Wildcats’ nine-game winning streak.
Since then, the Buffaloes have been mediocre at best but Arizona still needs to watch out on Thursday as Colorado attempts to re-create that early January feeling.
It’s not ideal for the Wildcats to go up against a squad that has solved their puzzle once already this season, but they did get a measure of revenge in the second meeting of the season, an 80-71 win on Jan. 25.
With the rubber match coming in Las Vegas, here are three keys to a Wildcat victory:
Win the turnover differential
Colorado has been the sloppiest team in the conference all year, ranking dead last in turnovers and turnover margin during Pac-12 play. However, as of late, the Wildcats are giving them a good run for their money in that area.
The Wildcats have committed double-digit giveaways in each of their last eight games and have given up 15 or more in three of their last five. This is one area that Arizona should have a strong edge on the Buffaloes.
Colorado has been a comedy of errors for most of the season. If people remember the first meeting between these two, the Buffs jumped all over Arizona in the first half but the Wildcats got back in the game because Colorado turned it over 13 times in the second half.
Arizona needs to take care of the basketball on Thursday afternoon. If they don’t, that advantage disappears and they’ll be in for a fight from a game Colorado team.
Colorado is not normally a hot shooting team. In 18 conference games, they shot 43 percent from the field, second-worst in the Pac-12. But apparently there was just something about playing Arizona this season that had the Buffs firing on all cylinders.
They shot 55 percent combined in the two games against Arizona including 47 percent from 3-point land.
The Buffaloes are now coming off of a Pac-12 Tournament opener where they scored 97 points, shot 53 percent and made 13 treys. They’re clearly in the correct form to go up against the Wildcats in the quarterfinal.
Arizona’s defense has been improved lately. They’ve held their last six opponents to less than 45 percent shooting. They’ll need that type of defense against a Colorado team that will likely still feel hot from the day before.
After Arizona lost to Colorado in early January, head coach Tad Boyle had some interesting things to say.
When asked if there was extra satisfaction in beating Arizona after the Wildcats were linked to the FBI’s probe into college basketball, Boyle emphatically responded with, “Hell yes.”
Now, sure, Arizona has since played Colorado again and beaten them in McKale Center. But many things involving this whole FBI/Arizona/Sean Miller debacle have also happened since then.
Bottom line is this — no matter what, after everything that’s been reported, the Wildcats are the bad guys in Vegas this week. Which is why this team needs to take on the “us against the world” mentality and remember those words from Boyle two months ago.
Arizona hasn’t played with the motivation a lot of people expected them to have since Miller returned to the sideline. They need to embrace that now. If Pac-12 teams come up on an angry Deandre Ayton, Allonzo Trier and company, it will be awfully hard to get past Arizona in Las Vegas.
And could there be some extra satisfaction in ending Colorado’s season after their FBI talk and all the distractions this team has had to deal with this season? My guess is hell yes.