One of three remaining undefeated teams in college basketball, No. 1 Arizona was faced with a challenge in the form of the Colorado Buffaloes on Thursday night. Sure Colorado was without the services of guards Spencer Dinwiddie and Tre’Shaun Fletcher due to knee injuries, with Dinwiddie done for the year, but the Buffaloes have held their own with the Wildcats since joining the Pac-12 in 2011.
And while the loss of Dinwiddie was a major blow, there’s still talent on the Colorado roster with Askia Booker, Josh Scott and Xavier Johnson now entrusted with doing much of the heavy lifting. Unfortunately for Colorado, Sean Miller’s team was in no mood for suspense as they scored the game’s first nine points and led by as many as 20 points before coasting to the 69-57 victory.
Arizona may not have shot well from beyond the arc (just 3-for-15 from three) but they made up for it by shooting 59.1% from two and scoring 44 of their 69 points in the paint. The Wildcats can get inside via the pass or dribble penetration, and with four players dishing out three assists apiece it’s clear that they have multiple players capable of making solid decisions with the basketball.
Nick Johnson led three players in double figures with 18 points (Brandon Ashley added 15 points and Aaron Gordon, 12), and what set them apart against Colorado was not only their offensive balance but also their ability to make things incredibly difficult for the Buffaloes on the other end.
Colorado shot just 38.5% from the field and even though Xavier Johnson scored 21 points Arizona was able to neutralize Booker, who is arguably Colorado’s most important player in the aftermath of Dinwiddie’s injury. Booker scored 11 points on 4-for-13 shooting, with T.J. McConnell and the other Arizona guards doing a good job of making life difficult for the junior guard.
Defensively the Wildcats have been doing this all season long, ranking third nationally in both adjusted defensive efficiency (per kenpom.com) and field goal percentage defense and 19th nationally (2nd in the Pac-12) in three-point percentage defense. And even though this is a very athletic group they don’t use that as a reason to gamble, which results in a limited number of unchallenged looks for opponents.
But when teams do turn the ball over Arizona is more than capable of making them pay, and on Thursday they converted 16 Colorado turnovers into 23 points.
Offensively this is a group that shares the basketball and doesn’t seem to care about who scores the points, with there being very few “it’s my turn to shoot” shot attempts. And while some may want to simply attribute that to the presence of T.J. McConnell, who has made a big difference at the point, the credit belongs to all involved. And if that continues, that sole national championship banner could have some company in less than three months’ time.