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Defense carries Arizona to key win over No. 20 Colorado

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arizona-california-basketball-tv-channel-live-stream-odds-radio-fs1-preview-wildcats-golen-bears Jacob Snow-USA TODAY Sports

If defense indeed wins championships, the Arizona Wildcats showed on Saturday they have what it takes to win the Pac-12 and maybe more.

Arizona held 20th-ranked Colorado to 36.7 percent shooting and a season-low in points in a 75-54 victory at McKale Center, completing a weekend sweep of the Rocky Mountain schools and climbing right back into the conference title race.

The Wildcats (13-5, 3-2 Pac-12) used a 19-3 run midway through the first half to build a double-digit lead they would maintain nearly the rest of the game, doing so with a combination of defensive stops, transition baskets and timely 3-point shooting. Arizona was 9 of 22 from 3, and combined with its 15 triples against Utah on Thursday have hit its most long balls in a 2-game span since November 2017.

Colorado (14-4, 3-2) turned it over 12 times, with three of those coming on shot clock violations, and Arizona converted those takeaways into 16 points. UA also held a 18-6 edge in fast break points, with several of those scores coming after holding the Buffaloes to one shot on offense.

The Wildcats outrebounded Colorado 39-25, improving to 13-1 this season when winning the matchup on the glass. Zeke Nnaji had 12 rebounds (seven offensive) to go with 12 points while Nico Mannion had a career-high seven boards along with 12 points and five assists and Ira Lee had seven boards with six points in season-high 26 minutes.

Josh Green and Dylan Smith led the Wildcats with 13 points apiece, with Smith hitting three 3s.

An ugly first seven minutes saw Arizona down 10-5 before it put everything together, making 8 of its next 12 shots during a 19-3 run to lead 29-15 lead with 3:56 left in the first half. That nine-minute stretch saw the Wildcats do almost everything right on defense and converted most of their best chances on the other end.

Six different players scored during the run including Max Hazzard, who canned a pair of transition 3s with the first seeing him get a steal and then pull-up with Colorado scrambling to get back on defense.

Hazzard was 3 for 6 from deep, making him 9 of 16 from outside for the weekend.

Colorado cut the deficit to single digits and had a chance to get closer in the final minute after Lucas Siewert intercepted a Mannion pass and threw it ahead to McKinley Wright, but Green chased him down from behind and partially blocked Wright’s layup attempt. That led to a transition 3 by Smith, then Smith picked Shane Gatling’s pocket at the top of the circle and slammed it home for a 34-20 lead with 33 seconds left.

Wright—who had a Colorado-high 15 points but also five turnovers—banked home a 3 at the buzzer to make it 34-23 at the half. Before that basket the Buffaloes had scored as many points in the previous 13:01 (10) as it had in the first 6:52.

Arizona returns to action next Saturday at ASU, looking for a regular-season sweep of the Sun Devils.