After upsetting their in-state rival on Sunday, the Arizona Wildcats were trying to open the Pac-12 season 2-0 for the first time since the 2010-11 season. They came out against the Colorado Buffaloes and made it look like the task would be simple, building a 14-point lead in the first half.
Colorado wouldn’t go down without a fight, but the Wildcats rose to the challenge, holding on for a 69-67 road victory. It is Arizona’s 11th straight win, setting a new school record.
“It would mean a lot,” UA coach Adia Barnes said Thursday when asked what it would mean to win 11 in a row. “I love this place. We were good when I was here. So my job is to do everything I can to bring it back and that’s exciting. Like, I don’t think anybody loves this place more than me, so that’s why I came to Arizona. I want to do that. That’s why these players came to play here. It’s hard to sell program that hasn’t won for a long time, but they want to be a part of the legacy.”
As has been the case all season, the Wildcats (12-1) were led by sophomore point guard Aari McDonald, who had 32 points, five rebounds, four assists and eight steals. Her defense was disruptive all night, and she proved once again that guarding her is a nightmare.
Lucia Alonso and Sam Thomas provided necessary back-up. Alonso went 4 for 9 from outside for 12 points. Thomas was close behind with 11 points on 4 for 7 shooting to go with three steals.
Despite playing at altitude, the Wildcats once again relied on their speed to run past their opponent, then hold them off. Quick hands and feet produced 21 Colorado turnovers—14 from steals—which Arizona turned into 21 points.
The fast break was also kind to the Wildcats. Arizona had 14 points in transition compared to only six for Colorado
If there was a weakness in their game, it was controlling the boards. The Buffaloes dominated on the glass, grabbing 39 rebounds to Arizona’s 20.
Just as they did against ASU, though, Arizona escaped real damage simply because Colorado struggled to convert those rebounds into second-chance points. The Buffaloes had only 10 points off their 18 offensive boards.
After scoring only 10 points to fall behind by nine in the first quarter, Colorado finally found their footing in the second. The Buffaloes shot 63% in the second quarter to keep the Wildcats from extending the lead.
After the half, it looked like Colorado might dominate. They outscored Arizona 26-14 in the third quarter. UA forward Dominique McBryde picked up her fourth foul, and was confined to the bench, opening things up for the Buffaloes inside.
The Wildcats fought back in the fourth. After giving up the lead, they came back to outscore Colorado 15-10 in the final quarter.
With the game tied and just over 36 seconds to go, Thomas made the go-ahead bucket. It looked like Arizona might have taken the shot too early. There was plenty of time for Colorado to come back. The Buffaloes gathered multiple offensive rebounds on their ensuing possession, but were unable to score. The buzzer sounded as Colorado’s Peanut Tuitele missed the final layup attempt.
The Wildcats will try to reach 3-0 when they face Utah on Sunday at noon MST. If they win, they could crack the Top 25 for the first time since 2004-05.