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January 23, 2014

Arizona matches school record, runs streak to 19

In a season already full of broken records, this year's Arizona team staked its claim to a share of another mark Thursday night.

Led by Nick Johnson's 18 points, the top-ranked Wildcats defeated Colorado 69-57 at McKale Center to match a modern-day school record with their 19th consecutive victory.

Most recently, Arizona achieved the feat during the 1997-98 and 1992-93 seasons.

"It's a fantastic feeling," said UA head coach Sean Miller, whose team continued to pad the best start in school history.

"What we try to do as best we can - and it's not easy, it's hard - is not get caught up in the fact that we're not at the finish line."

Brandon Ashley added 15 points on 6-of-7 shooting and Aaron Gordon chipped in 12 for the Wildcats (19-0, 6-0 Pac-12 Conference), who shot 54.5 percent in the second half and forced 16 turnovers for the game.

The Buffaloes (15-5, 4-3 Pac-12), in their third game without sidelined star Spencer Dinwiddie (ACL, out for the season), made a late flurry, but the game was not as close as the final score may indicate.

The show belonged to Arizona for roughly 36 of the game's 40 minutes. Colorado wing Xavier Johnson, who scored 16 of his game-high 21 points after halftime, came away with a different view, however.

"We were playing the No. 1 team in the nation but they weren't that good," said Johnson, who made 4 of 5 3-pointers.

After shooting below 30 percent in the first half, Colorado connected on three of its first four shots en route to a respectable 12-of-25 effort in the second half. But that didn't stop the Wildcats from adding to a 15-point halftime lead.

UA made its first five shots - including a gift on a rebound attempt by Josh Scott that went off his hands and into the basket. Gordon's monster, open-court slam extended the lead to 49-31, and 68 seconds later added a signature reverse jam to push it to 20.

The deficit was Colorado's largest in a game this season.

As has been the case this season, the big lead did not stop the Wildcats from diving on the floor for loose balls. This time, it was Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, whose effort led to a Gabe York transition layup to maintain the advantage with 11:35 left.

Before the night was over, Gordon added another flush, this one of the one-handed variety, to keep the crowd in a frenzy. The UA lead was hardly dented prior to the play, as the forward's finish made it 62-44 with 6:07 to play.

The Buffaloes' fullcourt defense with three minutes to play and down 16 was much too late.

"I had five dunks today and one other layup," said Gordon, smiling, after making half of his 12 field goals to go with four rebounds, three assists and a pair of steals.

"It's just another way I score. If that's the easiest thing for me to do, then that's what I'm going to do."

But if there was one area to nitpick, Miller said it was the Wildcats' rebounding. The teams were even on the boards at 32, marking just the second time this season a team has matched UA on the glass.

USC accomplished the feat Jan. 12 in Los Angeles, pulling down 30 rebounds that night. No team has won the battle against UA this season.

"We have to do better rebounding," Miller said. "If we got their attention about anything after this game, it's that."

The Wildcats showed no signs of a letdown from the start against the shorthanded Buffaloes.

With the help of a swarming defense, UA jumped out to a 9-0 lead inside the first four minutes. The trademark defense that has kept the program undefeated through the first three months of the season had the Wildcats off and running in a hurry. The Wildcats even came out with a fullcourt look to extend the pressure.

Arizona's next nine points featured a sequence highlighted by a Gordon dunk and a transition 3 from York to stretch the advantage to 18-4 at the 14:10 mark.

The first six minutes summed up everything the Wildcats have been about this season - and everything the Buffaloes hoped to avoid.

A 10-2 run pulled Colorado within six, but UA countered with 12 of the next 14 points to double up the score, 32-16, with 3:23 left in the half.

That was the theme of the night: Every time the Buffs tried to push back, the Wildcats responded even harder.

"We just had to take their punches and punch back," Johnson said.

The Buffaloes went more than six minutes between made field goals in that span.

"We dug ourselves a hole," Colorado head coach Tad Boyle said. "We had trouble scoring the ball and they made shots. We didn't have an offensive rhythm all night."

Behind a balanced attack led by Johnson's 12 first-half points and just two turnovers as a team, Arizona took a 39-24 advantage into the break.

The Wildcats turned the ball over just seven times for the entire contest.

Tracy McDannaldTracy McDannald
GOAZCATS.com Senior Editor

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