There’s no rest for the weary, as the Arizona Wildcats will be back in action a little more than 36 hours after thumping Utah on Thursday night. This one should be a lot tougher, as the 20th-ranked Colorado Buffaloes come to McKale Center for a Saturday afternoon tilt that will help shape the Pac-12 title race.
Colorado (14-3, 3-1) is coming off a 68-61 win at ASU, and while they haven’t won in Tucson in 55 years they did beat Arizona (12-5, 2-2) in Boulder last season.
Tip off is set for 12:30 p.m. MT and the game will be broadcast on FOX. Head to our basketball section for complete coverage.
Below are our staff predictions:
Brian J. Pedersen — Arizona wins 65-63
After scoring more points in the first half against Utah than it had in any game in almost two years, Arizona should be preparing itself for a grind-it-out affair against a very good defensive team in Colorado. The Buffs are 17th nationally in defensive efficiency, holding opponents to 43.6 percent on 2-point shots and keeping them off the foul line while also protecting the defensive glass about as well as anybody.
Arizona is 12-1 when it wins the rebounding battle but that’s going to be tough to do with Tyler Bey and Evan Battey defending in the paint. Where the Wildcats can win this game is in transition, particularly off live-ball turnovers, one of Colorado’s few weaknesses. The Buffs have turned it over 14 or more times in 10 of 17 games, including all three losses, and more than 11 percent of their offensive possessions end in the other team stealing the ball.
The Wildcats had a 23-11 edge in fast break points against Utah and scored 23 points of 13 Ute turnovers. This is going to be a slow game but when Arizona can run it must take advantage.
Ryan Kelapire — Arizona wins 75-71
Colorado has the second-stingiest defense the Wildcats have played to this point. The others are Baylor, Illinois, Gonzaga, and St. John’s in that order. Arizona went 1-3 in those games, and shot pathetically poor from 3 (aside from in the win vs. Illinois).
However, the Wildcats should enter Saturday’s game with a ton of confidence after they shot over 50 percent from 3 against the Utes. That, plus rebounding, will be the key in Saturday’s game.
The Buffs aren’t terrific on the glass—No. 59 in offensive rebounding, No. 27 in defensive rebounding—but they are better than UA on both ends. Evan Battey and Tyler Bey in particular are dangerous in that area. And then when you throw in a talented point guard like McKinley Wright IV, who is scoring and distributing at a high level, and some 40-percent 3-point shooters like Lucas Siewert and D’Shawn Schwartz, you can see why the Buffs will be a challenging matchup.
But I am prescribing to my old “it takes a lot for Arizona to lose at home” theory, so I will take the Wildcats in a close one. If this game were in Boulder, I’d be betting on the Buffs.
Matthew Rein — Arizona wins 72-64
Coming off a dominating win against the Utes, Arizona appears to be ready for the challenge of playing a top 25 Colorado team. The three point barrage Thursday night, led by grad transfer Max Hazzard, propelled the Cats to an easy victory. Saturday’s day game against the Buffs won’t be so easy. CU comes in with an experienced squad led by McKinley Wright and Tyler Bey.
Watching Colorado, this year, I frankly just haven’t been impressed. They’ve looked mediocre far too often. They have a talented team, but I’m not sure they’ve lived up to expectations thus far.
I’ll give Arizona the nod in this one based on the McKale advantage, and some of that momentum from Thursday spilling over to Saturday’s contest. If Arizona can limit Wright and keep Bey at bay, this will be the Cats game to lose.
Christian Mortensen — Arizona wins 78-74
On a confidence scale of 1-10, I’m at a solid 3, but I’m going to pick Arizona to get their marquee victory of the season Saturday against the Buffs.
This is probably the best team that Tad Boyle has had so far at Colorado (they are excellent both defensively and at rebounding, which concerns me) but something is telling me that the Wildcats are finally going to prove to everyone—and themselves—that they can beat a ranked opponent.
CU is seemingly vastly superior on the interior, so the Cats will need to shoot the ball the way they did Thursday night against Utah if they are to have a chance. Personally, I’m expecting a performance like the one they put on at No. 9 Oregon—except that the home crowd will help them seal a close victory instead of squander one.
Ronnie Stoffle — Arizona wins 81-70
I’m going to keep riding the Arizona-is-at-home card. I’ll especially use it in this case. This would end up being one of the better wins of the season if they can pull it off.
McKinley Wright and Tyler Bey will be very worthy opponents for the Wildcats. The best news of playing against talent like that is, they will be matched up against Arizona’s strength.
Wright and Bey against Mannion and Green (although I expect Dylan Smith to get the defensive nod for Bey) will be the game within the game. It will also be helpful that Colorado’s personnel will likely lead to more small ball sets for Arizona.
Colorado is equally as deep which makes these teams very similar. For me, tie goes to the home team. Cats notch a much needed quality victory.
Adam Green — Arizona wins 73-67
Do any of us really know what to make of Arizona right now? The performance against Utah was nice, but it followed up a miserable road trip in Oregon.
Looking at this game, there are a couple of things that stick out to me: One, the Wildcats are playing at home, and two, Colorado is not as good as Oregon. Or Baylor. Or Gonzaga.
The Wildcats will need to contain McKinley Wright and Tyler Bey, yes, but in reality this is another game that is more about the home team. If Arizona plays up to its ability, it has more talent than Colorado and should win with little trouble.
That said, I’m not sure the Wildcats can play a good 40 minutes so this one figures to be close.