McKinley Wright led five players in double-figures with 16 points to go along with 10 assists as Colorado completed a weekend sweep of the Arizona schools with an 80-77 win over the No. 14 Wildcats in Boulder on Saturday.
On Thursday night, Colorado knocked off No. 4 Arizona State in overtime.
The Buffaloes jumped out to a 42-22 lead late in the first half against Arizona and did just enough down the stretch to hold on and win. The Wildcats made a run in the second half, cutting the lead to 49-46 at one point, but they were never able to get closer than that.
Deandre Ayton led the way for Arizona with 26 points for Arizona. Allonzo Trier finished with just eight points on 3-for-9 shooting.
Here are three things we learned from Colorado’s win:
1. COLORADO JUST TURNED THEIR SEASON AROUND
Colorado entered this week in playing as poorly as anyone in the Pac-12, and that’s saying a lot. The Pac-12 is not good at the bottom of the league. Prior to Thursday night’s win over Arizona State, Colorado had lost three straight, five out of six and six out of eight. They were beaten by Oregon State, Colorado State, San Diego and Iowa during that stretch. After winning their first six games of the season, Colorado was sitting at 8-6 and it looked like the season was going to be a lost cause.
Then all of a sudden, Colorado turned around and swept the only two legitimately good teams in the conference.
And now, we can talk about Colorado as a team with the potential to earn an at-large bid and sound at least semi-sober. Colorado plays the toughest schedule in the Pac-12 this season, meaning that they get the Arizona schools, the Los Angeles schools and Utah twice. As of today, those are probably the five best teams in the conference. There is a long uphill battle to wage to build a résumé that is at-large worthy, but they are going to have as many opportunities to earn quality wins in Pac-12 as anyone in the conference.
Combine that with the fact that there are going to be a lot of at-large bids available to high-major schools – the Atlantic 10, Mountain West, Missouri Valley and WCC could all very well end up being one bid leagues – and I’m not totally losing my mind here, am I?
2. TAD BOYLE OUT-COACHED SEAN MILLER
Part of the reason that Colorado was able to put Arizona in that big of a hole was because Arizona looked like a team that was playing their second road game at elevation in the span of 40 hours against a team that lives and practices at elevation every single day.
There’s a reason why that road trip is the toughest road trip in the conference.
So maybe reading into this loss at all is too much.
But I cannot get past how effective Colorado’s game-plan was. It was simple, really: Allonzo Trier scores more than half his points in ball-screens and in transition, so to keep him from getting into a rhythm Colorado blitzed him whenever he was in a pick-and-roll and located him on the break. In the half court, the Wildcats then knew that their zone was going to clog things up and that Deandre Ayton would play at the high post, so they dared Deandre Ayton to beat them with jumpers.
The result was that Trier attempted just nine shots while Dusan Ristic finished with 16, more than anyone on the team until Ayton scored on the final three possessions of a game that was already out of reach. Ristic finished 6-for-16 from the floor, while Parker Jackson-Cartwright was 0-6 from the field and Rawle Alkins shot just 6-for-14.
The reason I say that Boyle out-coached Miller is because he figured out something that Miller has yet to: When Ayton and Ristic are on the floor together, Ristic’s inability to provide anything outside of five feet turns Ayton into a shooter.
And while I’m hardly as qualified as Miller is, I don’t quite understand why anyone would think the best way to win with this team is to turn a potentially franchise-changing NBA talent like Ayton into a jump shooter just to fit in a player like Ristic, who is a zero on the defensive end of the floor.
What Boyle did was take away Trier entirely and take away what Ayton does best, daring Anyone Else on Arizona to beat his team. “Anyone Else” could not get it done.
3. SPEAKING OF DEFENSE, AYTON DID WELL ON THE PERIMETER
Colorado played with four guards for essentially the entire game on Saturday, using George King – who is a shooting guard – at the four. This forced Deandre Ayton to spend the majority of the game playing on the perimeter defensively, and he actually did a pretty solid job. That was one of the knocks on him in the early part of the season, when Arizona lost three in a row in the Bahamas. It’s why teams like SMU, Purdue and N.C. State beat the Wildcats.
Ayton is hardly Draymond Green, but these days he certainly showed that he can be an above-average defender on the perimeter on Saturday. The athleticism and ability was never really in question. He’s a kid that spent his entire life standing in front of the rim defensively. He had to learn what to do, and to his credit, it looks like he has.