This game was originally scheduled for Dec. 2 but was postponed due to a COVID-19 case in the Buffaloes program, meaning Wildcats have three Pac-12 games this week, the other two in Washington this weekend.
Here are some things to watch for on Monday night.
Colorado’s tough luck in McKale Center
The Wildcats saw their 20-game winning streak vs. Stanford end a couple of weeks ago and now they will be trying to preserve an unbeaten record at home vs. the Buffs, who are winless in 10 games in McKale Center.
There have been many close battles, including in the 2012-13 season when CU guard Sabatino Chen appeared to hit a game-winning buzzer beater before a review ruled the ball was still in his hand as the clock hit triples zeroes. The Wildcats went on to win in overtime.
This might be Colorado’s best chance to beat Arizona. KenPom gives the Wildcats just a 51% win probability, which might be a little high since there is no true homecourt advantage this season.
Aside from Oregon, the Buffaloes are the best opponent on UA’s schedule right now, ranking 24th in KenPom. Arizona is 47th.
If the Wildcats have Pac-12 title aspirations, this might be a game they need to win.
At the top of Mount McKinley
Arizona fans should know by now what kind of player McKinley Wright IV is, but he has taken his game to a new peak this season.
The senior point guard enters Monday’s game averaging 16.3 points, 5.9 assists and 4.7 rebounds per game with a ridiculous shooting line of .608/.421/.800. He’s also only committing a career-low 1.9 turnovers per game, too.
He has Colorado’s offense running at the 29th-best efficiency in the country.
While Wright vs. UA point guard James Akinjo, Arizona’s top scorer and assister, will be a matchup that grabs the headlines, Arizona’s best bet at slowing Wright down might be putting a bigger defender like Dalen Terry on him.
“McKinley Wright calls himself a ‘walking bucket,’ which says more about his confidence than it does his skill,” Ralphie Report’s Jack Barsch told us. “He’s aggressive with the ball, as he understands that CU’s offense is best when he’s running everything. He’s very quick, knows how to knife through the defense to find opens look for everyone on the team, and he’s even added a pull-up three. ... He’s a strong defender who struggles with size (i.e. Oregon State’s Ethan Thompson), but loves a good matchup with a quick and skilled opponent. His biggest weakness is losing focus or aggressiveness against low-level competition, although that shouldn’t be a problem here. Otherwise, you just have to hope his shot isn’t falling (it usually doesn’t) and that he has an inefficient scoring night; if he’s on, though, he’s awfully tough to stop.”
Finally some size
Arizona has only played small teams thus far, but the Buffaloes have big bodies. Quite literally in the case of senior Evan Battey, a 6-foot-8, 262-pound forward who is the Buffs’ fourth-leading scorer (8.7 PPG).
They also start 7-footer Dallas Walton, who’s kind of like the anti-Christian Koloko. He doesn’t rebound or block shots well, but he’s averaging 10.3 points in just 16.6 minutes, capable of scoring at all three levels. He’s 4 for 7 from 3 and 24 of 27 from the free throw line.
Then there’s the 6-foot-7 Jeriah Horne who, despite coming off the bench, is Colorado’s top rebounder (6.0 RPG), second-leading scorer (11.4 PPG), and a dangerous marksman from 3 (50%).
Those three will be a good test for Arizona’s frontcourt, which has been inconsistent this season but certainly has the physical tools to match up.
Push the pace
It will be imperative that Arizona can get out in transition and not let the Buffaloes force them to run halfcourt offense.
But that’s not going to be easy. Colorado is the 23rd-best defensive team in the country and its average possession length is 18.9 seconds, the 327th-longest in the country. In other words, they have been able to slow the game down.
Nobody has been able to crack 70 points against the Buffaloes. Using man and zone, they held a formidable Tennessee team to 56 points on 35% shooting in a loss in Knoxville.
Arizona struggled to make anything happen in the first half of the Stanford game because the Cardinal controlled the pace and that was UA’s worst offensive half of the season.
A huge free throw discrepancy
If this game is close and has to be settled at the free throw line, the Buffaloes should benefit. They are the No. 2 free throw shooting team in the country, converting 85.8% of their foul shots.
Compare that to Arizona, which is only making 68.5% of its free throws.