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February 9, 2012

Defense helps Wildcats win third straight

Leading up to the game against Colorado, Arizona head coach Sean Miller said "it would be a disaster" if the Wildcats' stellar defense this season suddenly vanished.

Those words could not have been more true Thursday night at McKale Center.

The 'Cats overcame a 43.8 percent shooting effort by limiting the Buffaloes to 37.3 percent, and UA pulled away late for a 71-57 victory to record its first three-game winning streak in more than a month.

"I thought the effort level on both ends was about as intense and hard-playing as any game we've had all year," Miller said.

The victory tied the Wildcats (17-8, 8-4 Pac-12 Conference) with the Buffs in the league standings. Colorado (16-8, 8-4 Pac-12) entered the game in a second-place tie with California, which traveled to USC for a late-night affair.

UA also avenged a 64-63 loss to Colorado in Boulder on Jan. 21.

Arizona's upperclassmen trio of Solomon Hill, Kyle Fogg and Jesse Perry combined for 48 points on 16-of-30 shooting.

With three freshmen making up more than 40 percent of the current rotation after injuries depleted the roster, Fogg said that the veterans had to lead the way.

"Just being older guys - and guys that the younger guys look up to - it's up to us to really just stay consistent like this and make sure we get each other involved," Fogg said. "We can't have those nights where Solo dominates and me and Jesse kind of disappear - or vice versa."

Hill and Perry also finished with double-doubles, collecting 14 and 11 rebounds, respectively. As a team, the 'Cats had a 43-31 advantage on the boards.

"Solomon Hill and Jesse Perry - 33 points, 25 rebounds - that's a heck of a night from two players," Miller said.

Freshman forward Angelo Chol - whose role has expanded with UA's seven-man rotation - continued to make an impact on both ends of the floor. He chipped in eight points and two blocks in 12 minutes.

If not for Perry and Hill's "terrific" performances, Miller said that Chol's play would have merited more minutes.

"It was tough to take them out," Miller added. "But the difference is: When Angelo comes in the game now, he impacts the game in a positive way - he just doesn't fill in to give those two guys a breather."

Sophomore forward Andre Roberson finished with team highs of 12 points and 11 rebounds for Colorado, which made just 12 of 34 shots for 29 points in the second half against UA's "pack line" defense.

The Wildcats are now 9-1 this season when holding an opponent to 60 points or less.

"Once we established getting back in transition and made the game 5-on-5, then it heavily favored our man-to-man defense in the half court," Miller said.

Tied at 39 with 11:07 to play, the 'Cats went on 19-9 run over the next 6 1/2 minutes to take a 10-point lead. In the final 4:14, Colorado cut the deficit to eight on three occasions but would get no closer.

The game started off at what Miller called a "break-neck pace," as the teams were tied at 18 with 11:36 left in the first half.

"It caught our guys off guard," Miller said about Colorado's tempo early in both halves.

After Hill's jump shot at the 11:17 mark, however, UA did not convert an attempt from the field for nearly eight minutes. Yet, by the time Nick Johnson's 3-pointer connected with 3:30 left in the half, the Wildcats managed to take a 28-23 advantage.

That's because the Buffs made just 1 of 7 shots and committed six of their 11 turnovers in that span against the UA's stifling defense.

Hill said that part of the reason the team's defense performed so well was because of Colorado's foul trouble.

"When they go to a small lineup, you can't really execute their offense," Hill said. "So, you throw a team off like that, then you make a nice little run and just keep the lead."

Johnson's basket was part of an 11-5 run to close the period, which gave the 'Cats a 34-28 lead going into the locker room.

The loss dropped the Buffs to 1-4 on the road in Pac-12 play. It was also a quality performance at home for the 'Cats - which has not been the case for most of the season.

"I thought the way we played tonight is very reminiscent of a lot of our good performances on the road," Miller said.

Fogg added: "It's a big deal to protect our home court. In order to win the conference, you've gotta try to win every home game. We've got a couple of tough losses at home this year, but we're trying to turn that around. We've got three left and we're gonna try our best to win them all."

The Wildcats will return to action Saturday against Utah. Tipoff at McKale Center is scheduled for noon.

Tracy McDannaldTracy McDannald
GOAZCATS.com Senior Editor

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