In front of what felt like a vintage McKale Center crowd, the Arizona Wildcats sealed a second straight win and a sweep of the Rocky Mountain schools when they routed No. 20 Colorado, 75-54, on Saturday afternoon.
Their dominant win over the Buffs — the UA’s first dub against a ranked opponent this season — means that the Wildcats can finally add a marquee victory to their 2019-2020 resume and that their record improved to 13-5 overall and 3-2 in conference play heading into next weekend’s matchup at ASU.
Arizona truly dominated the proceedings against No. 20 Colorado — shooting a higher percentage from the field, from three and turning the ball over fewer times — but the main area of the game that really allowed the Wildcats to have their way with the Buffaloes was rebounding.
The Wildcats absolutely pounded Colorado on the glass, pulling down 39 boards, compared to just 25 from their opponent.
It was a huge advantage for the Cats —who also had more offensive rebounds (13-7) — and the impressive performance came against a Colorado team that had been averaging a rebound differential better than +7 per game.
Zeke Nnaji, who once again finished with a double-double, lead the Cats with 12 rebounds (to go with 12 points), while Nico Mannion and Ira Lee both secured 7 boards as well.
There is no doubting that the UA was great on defense against Colorado too, but their performance on the glass was the most impressive thing about an impressive win against a big, veteran team.
Ira was an absolute beast Saturday afternoon against the Buffs.
After being hit with a technical foul for taunting, when he threw a powerful dunk in the second half against Utah, Lee undoubtedly had his best game of the season Saturday against Colorado.
He finished with 6 points and 7 rebounds — and his impact was felt well beyond those numbers.
The junior played with his usual high motor throughout his season-high 26 minute appearance and appeared to be everywhere — fighting for every loose ball, every offensive rebound (he pulled down four of those) and yes, of course, throwing down some emphatic slams on the head’s of some helpless defenders.
His impact was so great on Saturday that he even garnered loud chants of ““Ira Lee, Ira Lee” from the crowd late in the game.
As he said afterwards, it was a “beautiful” thing to hear — for both the Wildcats and for the often embattled Lee himself.
While the usual suspects (Zeke Nnaji, Nico Mannion and Josh Green) all had good games on Saturday, the Wildcats really looked great offensively because they got contributions from pretty much everyone who played.
Christian Koloko didn’t score in limited minutes, but everyone else got involved offensively.
The UA’s star freshmen trio combined for 37, and their role players showed out too. Dylan Smith had 13, Max Hazzard built on his breakout against Utah with 9 points and Jamerl Baker Jr. finished with 7. As mentioned Ira Lee had 6.
In total, Arizona’s bench scored 22 points — and it came in what was absolutely the Wildcats’ best win and best offensive performance of the season.
For Colorado that is.
Incredibly, after their loss on Saturday, the Buffs have not beaten the Wildcats in Tucson since December 1965 — a whole eight years before McKale Center even opened in 1973.
It’s truly staggering that CU has never won at McKale in the building’s entire 47 year history, and on a day where not much went wrong for Arizona on the court, I felt like that much consistent losing was more than worthy a mention here in the down section.
Again, not much went wrong for Arizona on Saturday, so I’m nitpicking here, but the fact that Josh Green finished with 6 of the Wildcats’ 11 turnovers is at least somewhat concerning.
Apart from that, the Aussie did play a very good game — he got off to a quick start when nobody else on Arizona did, made some impressive plays on both ends and finished the game tied with Dylan Smith as the UA’s top scorer (they both scored 13 points) — but I know for a fact that Sean Miller and his staff will want their star freshmen to turnover it over less going forward.
This is something that I’ve noticed over the course of the season so far, and something that I felt was again on display against Colorado: this Wildcats’ team really struggles to pass the ball to the interior at times.
While it didn’t come back to haunt them against the Buffs, there were more than a couple occasions during Saturday’s game that Arizona couldn’t find the right pass when trying to get the ball inside to one of their big men.
There were multiple passes that were meant for Zeke, or Ira, or Stone Gettings that were tipped and lost, intercepted or downright overthrown — all resulting in Arizona turnovers.
Jemarl Baker Jr., Green and even Mannion were all guilty of making poor entry passes against Colorado, and while a simple thing, that is relatively easy to fix with practice, it’s definitely an aspect of the game that Arizona needs to get better at.