LAS VEGAS—The Arizona Wildcats have reached the Pac-12 Tournament semifinals, where they will face the Colorado Buffaloes for the right to play in the title game.
Top-seeded Arizona (29-3) advanced to the semis with a nail-biting 84-80 win over No. 9 Stanford in the quarterfinals, their first conference tourney win since taking the crown in 2018. No. 4 Colorado (21-10) beat fifth-seeded Oregon 80-69 on Thursday, setting up a third meeting between the teams.
Each school won on its home court in decisive fashion. Arizona blew out the Buffaloes 76-55 in Tucson in mid-January, then Colorado pounded the Wildcats 79-63 in Boulder on Feb. 26.
Here’s what to watch for when the UA and Colorado clash at T-Mobile Arena, where Arizona is 10-1 all-time:
Arizona was moments away from finally shutting the door on Stanford when Kerr Kriisa crumpled to the floor in extreme pain. His right foot came down on one of Christian Koloko’s, causing him to sprain his ankle to the point he had to be helped off the court.
Kriisa was later seen in a wheelchair, his right foot in a protective boot.
Watch us win it all. Bear Down, Go Cats pic.twitter.com/JEg0ElSC7F— Kerr (@KerrKriisa) March 10, 2022
Coach Tommy Lloyd confirmed Kriisa had suffered a sprained ankle, but the severity was unknown at the time. Same goes for whether Kriisa would be able to play in the semifinals, with Lloyd all but confirming how unlikely that was due to the “quick turnaround” between games.
“Kerr means a lot to the team,” wing Bennedict Mathurin said. “He’s the starting point guard. He has a great impact on the team. Whatever happens will happen. We hope he’ll be back soon.”
Assuming Kriisa is out, Arizona will turn to sixth-year guard Justin Kier. A starter at his previous two schools, Kier has come off the bench for all but two games with the Wildcats. He stepped in for Kriisa in mid-January against Utah when Kriisa missed the game after some pregame meal “horsing around” led him to get hurt somehow, and Kier also started over Kriisa on Senior Day.
Kier is averaging 6.9 points, 3.2 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game, but in those two starts he’s averaged 9.5 points, 5.5 rebounds and 5.5 assists.
Arizona only lost two Pac-12 games all season, and like with the first one it doesn’t have to wait long to get a chance to atone for that setback.
Friday’s game comes less than two weeks after the UA was crushed by Colorado in Boulder, a game it led at halftime only to have lost complete control a few minutes into the second half. Lloyd said afterward the Buffaloes played “harder” than the Wildcats, who three days later blew out USC on the road to clinch the Pac-12 regular season title.
The UA beat UCLA by 10 at home nine days after losing by 16 to the Bruins on the road, fixing a lot of the things that went wrong in that previous matchup. For that to happen against Colorado, it will mean doing much better in the paint.
The Buffs dominated that area in the last meeting, winning 54-26, the product of Colorado spreading the Wildcats out defensively. Since then the UA has been plus-50 in the paint, including a 14-point advantage over Stanford.
Arizona had a big showing on Thursday, with its allotment of fans possibly outnumbering the total attendance for all four Wednesday first-round games. The Wildcat fans were loud and proud, and made for an impressive overhead shot prior to tipoff.
McKale North pic.twitter.com/Yn5j9ys23c— Ashley Adamson (@AdamsonAshley) March 10, 2022
If you think that was impressive, the Friday night images could blow your mind. Lloyd has already been given a heads up on what he might encounter when he takes to the court for pregame introductions at what he referred to last weekend as McKale North.
“Someone told me, we win today, wait till you see this place Friday night,” he said. “So I can’t wait to see what it looks like tomorrow.”
If it feels like Arizona always plays Colorado in the Pac-12 tourney, you’re not that far off.
This will be the seventh meeting in the 11 years since the Buffs joined the conference in 2012, but the first since 2018. The Wildcats have won the last five, including in the quarterfinals in 2017 and 2018 en route to claiming the title, while Colorado beat the UA 53-51 in the 2012 Pac-12 championship.
Not surprisingly, a lot of the UA’s conference tourney superlatives—good and bad—have come against the Buffs.
The most points the Wildcats have scored in the second half in Vegas (54) was against Colorado in 2017, as were the most second-points they allowed (58), and Arizona only allowed 19 second-half points to CU in the 2012 final.
The 2016 meeting, which the UA won 82-78 in the semifinals, saw Arizona make 32 free throws (one off the tournament record) and attempt a tourney-record 44 foul shots. The Wildcats also swatted 11 shots in that game, setting a record that Oregon tied the next day against the UA in the conference final.