BOULDER, Colo. — On the ropes for three quarters, No. 6 Arizona made just enough big plays in the final period to hold off upset-minded Colorado 62-59 on Friday night.
Aari McDonald overcame poor shooting in the first half with 8-for-8 sniping from the line in the fourth quarter and finished with 24 points, and teammate Sam Thomas had a key steal with 21 seconds left.
“I loved our poise in the second half,” McDonald said. “Too bad we didn’t start that way. They had us on our heels and shut us down in the first half. But I think we wanted it more.”
The Wildcats (5-0, 4-0 Pac-12) shot just 34% and trailed by as many as 12 points late in the third quarter before opening the final period with a 13-2 run and taking a 55-53 lead.
Colorado (3-4, 1-3) missed its first 13 shots of the final quarter and made only 3 of 10 free throws in that period. Peanut Tuitele’s layup was the Buffaloes’ first field goal of the period, coming with 1:10 remaining and giving the Buffs their final lead at 56-55.
McDonald made six straight free throws in the final 1:01 to seal the win. The victory avenged the then-No. 11 Wildcats’ 50-38 loss to CU in the last meeting on Feb. 23.
Leading 58-56 with under a minute remaining, Thomas stole a pass under the Colorado basket. Moments later, McDonald’s two free throws pushed the lead to four points.
“We knew we needed a stop,” Thomas said. “I was just trying to protect the basket at all cost.
“I’m not going to lie. I lost my player and didn’t know where she went. I saw her out of the corner of my eye and she was coming my way, so I just stepped into the passing lane and got my hand in there.”
Wildcats coach Adia Barnes said Thomas “is one of our best defenders. She always does that. She finds a way.”
Barnes said Colorado “really punched us in the face. We showed heart.”
McDonald scored just three points in the first half on 1-of-7 shooting as Colorado built a 27-20 halftime edge.
Colorado used a 14-2 run in the third quarter to open up a double-digit lead.
McDonald, a 5-foot-6 guard, also had eight rebounds, and Cate Reese added 10 points.
Jaylyn Sherrod, Frida Formann and Mya Hollingshed had 11 points apiece to lead Colorado.
Arizona: Travels to Salt Lake City to take on Utah on Sunday.
Colorado: Hosts Arizona State on Sunday.