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January 23, 2014
No. 1 Arizona looks to remain sharp against shorthanded Colorado
This was supposed to be the night top-ranked Arizona and Colorado continue one of the Pac-12 Conference's better match-ups in recent years. It may still be, but there will be one important face missing.
The Wildcats (18-0, 5-0 Pac-12) will look to extend the best start in program history and tie another school record Thursday against the shorthanded Buffaloes (15-4, 4-2 Pac-12). Tipoff at McKale Center is scheduled for 7 p.m.
An Arizona win would match the 19-game winning streak last achieved by the 1992-93 team.
"We're happy that we're 18-0 but we know we've got to focus on the next game," UA reserve Gabe York said.
Focus has not been an issue this season for the Wildcats, who have been battle-tested in tough road environments and continue to stay sharp with the attention now on when - if at all - the first loss will come and to whom.
But that focus will receive a different test against Colorado. The task at hand, now, is to attack the Buffaloes the same way despite the absence of star guard Spencer Dinwiddie, who is out for the season with an ACL injury suffered Jan. 12 at Washington.
CU is 1-1 without Dinwiddie - who averaged team highs of 14.7 points and 3.8 assists - topping USC 83-62 in its last time out. Buffaloes head coach Tad Boyle said moving on from the injury is now a mental obstacle for his team.
"Spencer did do so many things for us," Boyle said. "It's going to be by committee. Jaron Hopkins is not going to be Spencer Dinwiddie, and we don't expect him to be."
Among the areas that will have to be filled are Dinwiddie's ability to get to the free-throw line, where he attempted 119 shots - second in the Pac-12 to only Roberto Nelson of Oregon State.
Hopkins has made just 4 of 13 shots from the field since taking over the role. The freshman is averaging 5.4 points on 41.8 percent shooting this season.
But Hopkins can bring pieces of what Dinwiddie provided, and among those is a "defensive presence on the perimeter," Boyle added.
The bulk of the leadership responsibilities, however, now fall on Josh Scott and Askia Booker, Boyle said. Aside from Dinwiddie, the team also is playing without Tre'Shaun Fletcher, who was injured in the same game against the Huskies and was originally expected to miss six to eight weeks.
Boyle's by-committee approach also includes the needed bench production of Xavier Talton, Eli Stalzer and George King.
There also is Dinwiddie's "confidence and swagger" that Boyle said that has to build throughout the team. That's where Booker and Scott come in.
Boyle said he already has had conversations both with the team and individuals about their roles moving forward. The message: Be positive because adversity would have eventually popped up in some form, even with Dinwiddie healthy.
"When those bumps in the road come it's imperative that you're positive not only with yourselves, but with your teammates," Boyle said.
In recent years, the teams have formed a budding rivalry, even if Boyle chooses to downplay it and avoid the word rivalry.
Since the Buffs joined the league in 2011-12, the programs have split six meetings - including back-to-back showdowns in the Pac-12 tournament. Colorado topped Arizona to win the tournament championship in 2012 and the Wildcats returned the favor in the quarterfinal round last season.
The series also has provided some controversy. In the last trip to McKale Center, the Wildcats pulled away for a 92-83 overtime win, but not before Sabatino Chen's buzzer-beating game-winner in regulation for the Buffaloes was waved off.
UA head coach Sean Miller is expecting nothing short of another tough battle, even without Dinwiddie.
"Every time that we've played Colorado, it's been a terrific game," Miller said.
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GOAZCATS.com Senior Editor
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