2014 Pac-12 Tournament bracket update: Arizona marches on
LAS VEGAS – Unlike Arizona's 32-point rout of Utah a day earlier, it took a while for the Wildcats to find separation against Colorado in Friday's Pac-12 Tournament semifinal at MGM Grand Garden Arena.
Similar however, suffocating defense turned into explosive offense – and the Wildcats' relentlessness took its toll.
“It was that combination that really broke the game open,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said. “Anytime we can get that many stops, it fueled our transition.”
Miller's team wore down the Buffaloes en route to a 63-43 win, advancing to Saturday's Pac-12 Tournament Championship game against either Stanford or UCLA. Tipoff is 3 p.m. PT on Fox Sports 1.
Same as during Thursday's debut here in Las Vegas, Arizona's suffocating defense turned into offensive momentum as they held CU to 23 percent shooting in the second half and 29 percent for the game. Arizona shot 60 percent in the second half behind that defense that only ratcheted up as the game wore on.
Nick Johnson led UA with 16 points and four assists, while backcourt mate T.J. McConnell added 12 points and five dimes. Freshman Rondae Hollis-Jefferson came on strong in the second half to finish with 12 points and eight rebounds.
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Tad Boyle's team trailed 14-13 midway through the first half before the Wildcats showed signs of wanting to run away. The complexion of the game changed behind UA's transition game.
With eight minutes to go in the first half, Arizona freshman Aaron Gordon stole the ball from Dustin Thomas, pushed it up the court and found Johnson for an alley-oop dunk. On the next play, Gordon grabbed a rebound and again fed Johnson, who this time posted up atop the arc for a three-point make.
The Wildcats went ahead 22-13 as a McConnell three-pointer capped an 8-0 run with six minutes to play in the first half.
To end the half, CU responded, going on a 11-2 run before a three by Arizona' Gabe York broke a tie to give his team a 27-24 lead at the break. Xavier Johnson kept Colorado close in the first half, hitting two threes and scoring nine points in the first 20 minutes.
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Colorado hung tough through 26 minutes and trailed by just six with 14 minutes to play.
The Buffaloes' offense, meanwhile, went from effective to stagnant at halftime. As Arizona began moving the ball, Colorado got away from what made it a successful first half.
“We moved it side-to-side, we were really screening well,” Boyle said. “In the second half, we made a lot of one-on-one plays. We didn't make the extra pass.”
Xavier Johnson would only score two more points in the second half to finish with 11. Askia Booker led Colorado with 12 points but couldn't shake free often – he went 4-of-14 from the field.
Arizona continued rolling out highlight-reel tape in the second half. Leading 34-29, a backcourt alley-oop to Nick Johnson ended in a reverse dunk, and freshman Rondae Hollis-Jefferson followed it with another dunk to string the lead back out to nine points.
“I think we had great defense, we just couldn't get a rebound,” Booker said. “It's hard to get out in transition and run when they're jumping over our backs and getting the ball.”
Still, the Wildcats couldn't quite snuff out the Buffs' defense until the middle of the second half. Arizona went on a 13-0 run to lead 51-32 with eight minutes left in the game, and Colorado couldn't find much breathing room on offense to make a significant push back into the game.
The next step for Arizona: take what they did in the final 20 minutes against Colorado into Saturday.
“We haven't played better basketball at any point this year than we did in the second half,” Miller said.