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James Akinjo leads Arizona past Colorado for first Pac-12 win

arizona-colorado-basketball-final-score-recap-reaction-wildcats-buffaloes-highlights-sean-miller Mike Mattina/Arizona Athletics

Sean Miller has been very complimentary of his team’s defense this season, save for a good part of the Stanford game, which just happens to be the only loss for the Arizona Wildcats.

It might be time for him to give a little more love to the offense.

Arizona weathered a shoddy first-half defensive performance by shooting 52.6 percent in an 88-74 home win over the Colorado Buffaloes on Monday night at McKale Center.

The Wildcats (7-1, 1-1 Pac-12) had five players score in double figures, led by guard James Akinjo’s UA-best 22, while making 8 of 17 3-pointers and assisting on 20 of 30 made baskets.

“We had an energy about us on offense,” Miller said. “We were really fully engaged.”

Akinjo, who was 5 for 7 from 3 after going 3 of 18 over the previous four games, added eight assists while Terrell Brown Jr. had 7 assists to go with 12 points. He did not turn it over, upping his streak to 115 minutes over six games without a giveaway as Arizona turned it over just eight times.

The Wildcats became the first team to score at least 70 points against the Buffaloes.

Colorado (6-2, 1-1) hit 12 3-pointers but shot only 33.3 percent in the second half after shooting 51.6 percent in the first half, but the Buffaloes’ biggest problem was on the defensive end. They came in allowing 57.4 points per game on 38 percent shooting.

Arizona led 50-44 at halftime thanks to a 2-for-1 that began with Terrell Brown completing a three-point play and ended with Akinjo draining a pull-up 3 in transition at the buzzer. The teams combined to shoot 53.8 percent from the field and make 12 of 24 3-pointers in the first half, and it helped that only 14 fouls were called.

So, naturally, there were a combined seven fouls in the first 5:21 of the second half. That included two on Colorado’s Evan Battey, who had 14 first-half points but picked up his second and third fouls in the first 2:19 of the second half and had to sit.

Akinjo’s fourth 3-pointer with 15:03 left put Arizona up 58-50, then his fifth combined with a drive by Ira Lee—which came after an awkward-looking pump fake from 3 at the top of the key that Colorado somehow fell for—made it 63-52 with 13:25 to go.

Battey didn’t return until the 11:36 mark, with Arizona leading by 12, but after making a pair of free throws he was back on the bench with 10:05 left after getting his fourth foul. He didn’t come back again until 6:01 remained, with the Wildcats up 74-62, and finished with 18 while leading scorer McKinley Wright IV had 10 points on 4-of-12 shooting.

Colorado could get no closer than 10, at 79-69, only to have Terrell Brown drain a corner 3 on the ensuing possession to start a 7-0 run.

Jemarl Baker Jr. had 14 points, Jordan Brown had 10 and Christian Koloko added a career-high 10 points with eight rebounds. He had four dunks and was 5 of 7 from the field.

Colorado turned four offensive rebounds into nine points in the first 5:39, but Arizona kept pace by making 10 of its first 15 shots. A 9-3 run gave the Wildcats a 37-32 lead with 6:20 to go, only to see the Buffaloes retake the lead at 41-40 thanks to a 6-0 run.

Arizona went 3:24 without scoring but then ended the half on an 8-0 run, shooting 55.9 percent in the opening 20 minutes.

The UA outscored Colorado 38-18 in the paint and 18-0 in fast break points in beating the Buffs for the 11th straight time at home. Colorado’s last win in Tucson came at Bear Down Gym in 1965.

Arizona, which is now 84-4 under Miller when it scores at least 85 points, hits the road for its next two Pac-12 games, facing Washington in Seattle on Thursday night before visiting Washington State on Saturday night.