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January 3, 2013

No. 3 Wildcats set for Pac-12 opener

One of Arizona's worst memories of 2012 will be revisited Thursday when the No. 3-ranked Wildcats open Pac-12 Conference play in their first game of the new year.

Arizona will play host to Colorado in front of what is expected to be a sellout crowd at McKale Center. Tipoff is scheduled for 6 p.m. MST.

The Wildcats (12-0) and Buffaloes (10-2) split last season's regular-season series, but the Buffs pulled out a 53-51 win in a conference tournament championship game that was not decided until the final possession. The loss kept Arizona out of the NCAA tournament.

"We know that it's going to be a war," UA head coach Sean Miller said. "I think at the end of the day when the Pac-12 season ends, Colorado will be right there. It's important that we're ready here, especially with our game being at home."

The 'Cats are seeking the program's best start in 81 years, when the 1931-32 team opened the season with 16 consecutive wins. Along the way, UA has earned quality nonconference victories over top-25 programs Florida and San Diego State.

Unlike the last time the two teams met, the Buffaloes can expect much more size and more proven plan down the stretch.

Last season, Colorado's first in the Pac-12, the title game ended on a desperation heave from Kyle Fogg that had little chance from the moment the ball was inbounded. Already this season, the Wildcats have turned to Mark Lyons for a pair of go-ahead baskets in the closing seconds of the wins over the Gators and Aztecs.

But the Xavier transfer is not the only one who will be making his Pac-12 debut. Instead of seeing an undersized frontcourt, the Buffaloes will have to contend with heralded freshmen Kaleb Tarczewski, Grant Jerrett and Brandon Ashley - all of whom stand between 6-8 and 7-feet tall.

"They've got men, they've got animals in there and it's a different deal than what we've faced the last two games," Colorado head coach Tad Boyle said. "But our guys understand that and our guys love challenges, they're competitive and they believe in themselves and we can't put too much into any one game."

The Buffaloes are down three starters from last year's team, but boast four double-figure scorers led by sophomore Askia Booker's 14.8 points per game.

Along with fellow sophomore guard Spencer Dinwiddie, the starting backcourt has combined for 41 3-pointers this season.

"I think Spencer Dinwiddie has developed from early in his freshman year to right now," Miller said of the sophomore. "He's a fantastic shooter. There aren't many players that play the game like him in college basketball."

Colorado has won three consecutive games including an 80-52 win over Hartford on Dec. 29. But in road contests, the Buffs are just 1-2 - including a 90-54 loss to then-No. 9 Kansas in the lone away contest against a ranked opponent.

Meanwhile, Arizona has yet to lose in 12 conference openers at home.

"We need to be better in the true road games, that's been our Achilles' heel," Boyle said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Tracy McDannaldTracy McDannald
GOAZCATS.com Senior Editor

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