On Thursday night, we were stunned. On Saturday afternoon, we were awed.
Less than 72 hours after knocking off a Top 5 team, the Colorado Buffaloes (10-6, 2-2) turned the college basketball world on its head again. The Buffs nearly let the biggest homestand since joining the Pac-12 slip away in the second half, however, Colorado held on under heavy fire to outlast the (No. 14/16) Arizona Wildcats (12-4, 2-1), 80-77. The victory marks the first time in program history that the Buffs have had back-to-back wins over Top 15 teams, and the first time since January of 2011 that they won two consecutive games against ranked opponents.
The Wildcats rolled into Boulder on a nine-game winning streak, riding high as the lone undefeated team in Pac-12 play, just two weeks into the conference season. Yet once again, the talented, albeit young, Buffs delivered them a rude awakening. Despite terrible starts in each of their last four games, it was Colorado who punched first, and this time it took 20 minutes for U of A to get up off the mat.
Colorado held Arizona to just 30 percent from the field in the first twenty minutes and just 23 percent from downtown. More impressive was the specific execution of their defensive gameplan for such a young group with just one practice to prepare.
Consensus top three pick in the upcoming 2018 NBA Draft, DeAndre Ayton was held to just five points and two rebounds before halftime. Teammate and fellow future NBA Draft pick, Allonzo Trier entered Saturday’s game second in the Pac-12 in scoring at just over 21 points per game. The Buffs held him to just three points in the first half and did not allow him a shot inside the three-point line.
Meanwhile, the Buffaloes shook their early offensive woes and filled it up at a blistering clip on their way to a season-high in first half scoring. Colorado shot 64 percent from the floor and 57 percent from behind the three-point line. They shared and took care of the basketball, with 10 assists to just two turnovers. Most surprising of all was the battle in the paint. CU led 18 to 10 in points in the paint after 20 minutes behind a heroic performance from freshman center Dallas Walton. Walton made all seven of his shots on the night, finishing with a career-high 15 points, 11 of which he scored in the first half.
Colorado led by 16, 45-29 into the locker room. Even with the sizable lead, anyone who is familiar with the Arizona Basketball program knew the Buffs were not out of the woods just yet. Wildcats Head Coach Sean Miller rallied his team at halftime and finally Arizona began fighting back at the outset of the second act.
U of A bullied the young Buffs into seven turnovers in the first 7:43, going on a 13-4 run, and trimming the 16-point deficit to 3. However, from there on out, the Buffs dug their heels in the ground and would not cave. It would have been easy to let the game slip away. After all, the Wildcats had all the momentum in a high-pressure environment and Colorado’s inexperience seemed to be getting the best of them.
As the lead hung in the balance, the Buffs managed to regain their composure behind outstanding veteran leadership from Dom Collier, George King and Namon Wright. Collier specifically was phenomenal in the second half. Dom scored 12 of his 14 points after halftime and made big shot after big shot when the Buffs needed it most. Despite getting outscored in the second half, 48-35, over the final 12:17 Colorado matched Arizona point for point, tying the Wildcats 31-31 from then on out to come away with the three-point win.
The Buffs now get some well-deserved down time as they don’t play again until the middle of next week. The Buffaloes made a statement at home, where they improve their record to 7-1, but doing it on the road is another thing. However, they do have that opportunity this week. Colorado head back to the road for the LA swing that starts off with the USC Trojans on Wednesday, January 10th and finishes with the UCLA Bruins (12-4, 3-1) on Friday, the 12th. Tipoff with Southern Cal is slated for 8pm MST and will be broadcast nationally on Fox Sports 1.