The only thing more painful than falling behind big is to come all the way back only to still end up losing.
Arizona rallied from down 17 points in the first half to lead by as many as four late, yet Colorado managed to pull out an 82-79 win on Saturday night in Boulder.
Colorado’s Evan Battey made four free throws in the final 15 seconds, the last two while in severe pain after injuring his left ankle after being fouled by Terrell Brown Jr. with 4.6 seconds to go. Brown had a chance to tie the game with 5.6 seconds left but made only 1 of 2 free throws, and James Akinjo’s desperation 3-point attempt from just inside half court was offline.
The Buffaloes (14-5, 8-4 Pac-12) were 12 of 13 from the line in the second half after going 1 of 4 in the first half, while Arizona (13-6, 7-6) was 18 of 23 and missed four freebies in the second half.
Arizona lost its second game in a row and for the fourth straight time at Colorado despite shooting 68 percent in the second half, this after a woeful 33.3 percent performance in the first half that saw the Wildcats behind 19-2 right out of the gate and down double digits almost the entire opening 20 minutes.
Bennedict Mathurin led Arizona with 22 points off the bench, making 7 of 9 shots overall and 4 of 5 from 3-point range, while Azuolas Tubelis had 18 points and Akinjo added 16 with seven assists. Battey led Colorado with 21, while McKinley Wright IV had 17 points and six assists.
Down nine at the half, the UA found itself down only 50-48 with 12:06 left following an Akinjo layup. A fallaway baseline jumper by Tubelis put the Wildcats ahead 53-52, their first lead since 2-0, with 10:48 to go.
What followed were two ties and three lead changes, with the last of those seeing Kerr Kriisa get his first career points with a 3 to put Arizona ahead 60-59 with 9:01 left.
Arizona built the lead to four with 6:21 remaining but then its defense, which had held Colorado to 20 points over the first 13-plus minutes of the second half, gave up scores on five straight possessions. The Wildcats managed to maintain the lead throughout, though, and Jordan Brown’s spin move for a floater in the paint gave them a 76-73 edge with 1:38 left.
Colorado’s Eli Parquet drained a 3 with 1:11 left to tie it up, and Wright’s floater with 36 seconds to go gave the Buffs a 78-76 before Christian Koloko tied it with a dunk off a feed from Akinjo with 23 seconds remaining.
Mathurin fouled Battey off the ball with 15.3 seconds left, sending him to the line for the game-winning free throws, before Terrell Brown was fouled on a drive and missed the first foul shot with 5.6 seconds to go.
The Wildcats took a 2-0 lead on a pair of free throws in the first minute by Mathurin, who did not start after getting called out by Sean Miller for a poor attitude against Utah, stepping in for Koloko after he lost a contact lens.
By the time Arizona scored again it was 19-2 Colorado. The Buffs made 8 of their first 13 shots while Arizona started 0 for 10, not making a basket until Jordan Brown hit a putback with 11:33 left in the first half.
Arizona got within 25-15 with 8:13 to go on a Terrell Brown layup before Colorado started hitting everything in sight again to lead 37-21 with 3:58 to go. The Wildcats then used a 9-0 run to get within six before the Buffs hit their eighth 3 of the first half at the halftime buzzer for a 41-32 edge.
Colorado shot 55.8 percent for the game and made 11 of 20 3-pointers.
The UA returns home to face Oregon State on Thursday. The Wildcats crushed the Beavers 98-64 in Corvallis in mid-January.