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March 14, 2014

Arizona, Colorado set for third Pac-12 tournament meeting

LAS VEGAS -- It wasn't long ago Arizona and Colorado looked like a budding Pac-12 Conference rivalry. In the Buffaloes' first two years in the league, the teams split the six meetings - including a pair of Pac-12 tournament games.

Year 3 has been a one-sided affair, however.

The Wildcats clobbered the Buffs by a combined 39 points for a pair of victories, and now the teams meet in the conference tournament for the third time in as many years. Friday's semifinal contest is scheduled for 6 p.m. at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.

"We got smacked," CU forward Xavier Johnson said of the last meeting, an 88-61 loss in Boulder, Colo.

The words from the sophomore were much different than his words after the Wildcats' 69-57 win in Tucson. Then, UA was the top-ranked team in the country but Johnson said "they weren't that good" and predicted a "20-point blowout" for the Buffaloes that never came close to fruition.

Arizona (29-3) started the game on a 22-5 run as Colorado (23-10) missed its first 14 field goal attempts. The Wildcats, who shot a season-high 60.3 percent, scored 57 points in the second half alone.

But UA guard Gabe York said it was all about defense, which returned to form Thursday in a 71-39 quarterfinal win Utah.

"I think defensively we're the No. 1 team in the country," York said after setting tournament records for fewest points scored against, fewest allowed baskets (12) and opposition field goal percentage (25.5 percent). "I think when we pride ourselves on defense, there's not really anybody who could really play with us."

You won't get much of an argument from CU head coach Tad Boyle, either.

"Best defensive team in the league - and it's not even close," Boyle said of the Wildcats, who have won the past three head-to-head meetings dating back to last year's Pac-12 tournament.

Johnson added that the biggest challenge will be mental, when the shots are not falling against a top seed in the tournament that has limited the fifth-seeded Buffaloes to a combined 35.6 percent shooting this season.

It also will be the third game in as many days for CU, which defeated USC and California to get to the semifinals. In each of their last three wins, the Buffaloes have scored exactly 59 points.

Looking back on the first two meetings, considering the past history, Buffaloes guard Askia Booker said the results were "without a doubt" surprising and the struggles on offense dictated the team's performance on defense.

While scoring on the Wildcats has proven to be tough for opponents this season, Booker added it will be just as important to limit UA's opportunities.

"It's going to be a physical game," Booker said. "I think the key to that game is going to be to keep them off the boards and not let them get second-chance points."

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Tracy McDannaldTracy McDannald
GOAZCATS.com Senior Editor

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