LAS VEGAS—Learning from past mistakes is an important part of growth, whether it be individually or as a team. Arizona suffered a hard lesson the last time it played Colorado, and it was bound and determined not to slip up like that again.
The Wildcats dominated the Buffaloes on the interior, outscoring them 30-14 in the paint while also holding a massive advantage in free throw attempts to fuel an 82-72 win in the Pac-12 semifinals on Friday night at T-Mobile Arena.
Top-seeded Arizona (30-3) moves on to the Pac-12 final, where it will face No. 2 UCLA—a 69-59 winner over No. 3 USC in the other semifinal—Saturday night seeking its first conference tournament title since 2018.
The Wildcats and Bruins have split 10 previous meetings in the conference tourney, most recently in 2018 when Arizona won in the semifinals en route to its last Pac-12 title.
Azuolas Tubelis led the UA with 20 points, 18 in the first half, on 9-of-14 shooting, along with 11 rebounds, while Justin Kier had 13 as Kerr Kriisa’s replacement at point guard. Dalen Terry had 12, including two late 3-pointers to ice the win, while Bennedict Mathurin and Oumar Ballo each added 10.
The UA, which was outscored 54-26 in the paint in last month’s 79-63 loss at Colorado, had 10 layups and two dunks and also got to the line 25 times, making 24, compared to 10 attempts for the Buffaloes.
“We fixed things,” UA coach Tommy Lloyd said.
Colorado (21-11) set a Pac-12 Tournament record with 16 3-pointers, hitting nine in the first half, but while it shot 50 percent from outside it was just 8 of 30 (26.7 percent) from inside the arc and shot 38.7 percent for the game. The Buffs were led by Jabari Walker, who had 19 including five 3s but only took one shot in the second half.
“If they shoot well from 3, and you choke down the lane and you limit free throws ... it’s a formula,” Lloyd said. “I mean, they’re gonna score. You don’t pitch shutouts in basketball.”
Arizona led 47-38 at halftime, getting to that margin after Tubelis stole a pass from Colorado’s KJ Simpson and then drove over him on the other end, completing a 3-point play with three seconds left in the first half. The Buffs got within 51-50 by hitting four more 3s in the first 3:44 of the second half, including on three straight possessions wrapped around consecutive offensive fouls called against Arizona.
The second, on Mathurin to give him three fouls, caused Lloyd to lose it on the sidelines and shoo away his assistants as they tried to calm him down. That was Mathurin’s third foul, sending him to the bench, and not long after Kier got his third and had to sit, causing Terry to play point guard.
The Wildcats started 2 of 7 in the second half with six turnovers before Kier scored on a 3-point play to put them up 58-54 with 11:41 left. A minute later, Walker picked up his fourth foul and had to sit, and Arizona pounded it inside and got to the line with regularity to put the game away.
Colorado was unconscious early, making it first five shots including three 3-pointers. The Buffaloes led 16-8 less than five minutes in and were up 21-15 after a 7-of-9 start from the field but then missed eight of their next 10 shots.
That coincided with Arizona running and gunning (and stealing the ball), going on a 16-3 run that including a 9-0 in 59 seconds to lead 31-24.
Walker’s fifth 3 got Colorado within 32-30 with 6:51 left but Arizona—or rather Tubelis—responded with five consecutive baskets for the UA. The Wildcats made six of their last seven shots before the break.
“We need the good Zu today,” Lloyd said he told Tubelis before the game. “He just gives me the nod ... and then he goes out and does that.”