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Buffs Fall At No. 6 Arizona

Jan 13, 2022
K.J. Simpson had 17 points for CU on Thursday.


TUCSON, Ariz. — Colorado couldn't overcome poor shooting Thursday night and Arizona turned up the heat in the second half as the Buffaloes dropped a 76-55 decision to the sixth-ranked Wildcats at the McKale Center.

Tad Boyle's Buffs saw their five-game win streak come to an end while falling to 11-4 overall and 3-2 in Pac-12 play. It was CU's 10th straight loss on the Wildcats' home floor in the Boyle era.

 Arizona improved to 13-1, 3-0.

The Buffs trailed by as much as 15 in the first half before narrowing the deficit to four by intermission, 32-28. But the Wildcats pushed their lead back into double digits early in the second half and Colorado never had another answer, as CU endured a five-minute scoring drought in a key second-half stretch.

Freshman K.J. Simpson led Colorado with 17 points, 14 in the first half. Simpson, who originally committed to Arizona last year before signing with Colorado, also added four assists, three rebounds and three steals. Evan Battey had nine points and seven rebounds for CU.

Azuolas Tubelis and Justin Kier each had 14 for Arizona.

CU shot a season-low 33 percent from the floor (21-for-64), including 4-for-20 from 3-point range. The Wildcats shot 51 percent (29-for-57) and outrebounded the Buffs, 44-33, including a 27-12 edge in the second half. 

Arizona also had a 42-28 edge in points in the paint and the Buffs gave up 22 fast-break points.

"I was really proud of our guys' fight in the first half," Boyle said. "Once we settled in, our guys fought back. But in the second half, I did an awful job of coaching. We gave up too many layups and we got selfish on offense. That's my fault."

HOW IT HAPPENED: The Buffs trailed by just four at the half, 32-28, after using a late surge to shave a 15-point deficit down to single digits by intermission.

But the Wildcats rebuilt their cushion in the first five minutes of the second half, using a 7-0 run to go up 49-34 six minutes into the half.

Colorado did momentarily cut the deficit back to 10 on a  Battey 3-pointer with 11 minutes to play. But the Wildcats responded with another run that included back-to-back 3-pointers to push their lead to 17 with nine minutes remaining and CU never mounted another serious threat. CU suffered through a five-minute scoring drought and the Wildcats led by as much as 25 in the final minutes.

"We all went our separate ways on offense and we unraveled," Boyle said. "We had some good looks that didn't go in, but we had too many possessions when we took bad shots. It's a heck of a lesson for our young guys."

Colorado struggled to open the game, missing its first seven field goal attempts, and the Wildcats took advantage, jumping out to an 11-2 lead less than six minutes in.

The Buffs finally tallied a field goal at the 14:07 mark, but Arizona soon stretched its cushion to 15 when a Benedict Matherin free throw gave UA a 25-10 lead.

But after committing seven turnovers in the first 13 minutes, the Buffs finally found their footing. Freshman guard Simpson fueled an 11-2 surge that included seven points in 38 seconds and CU closed the gap to three, 29-26, with 1:08 left in the half.

Luke O'Brien started the Colorado run with a pair of free throws before Simpson delivered a coast-to-coast layup. Arizona momentarily stopped the run with a Christian Koloko bucket, but Colorado answered with a Simpson three-point play, a Battey bucket off a Simpson assist and an O'Brien basket in the paint to pull CU within 27-21.

"K.J. is not afraid," Boyle said. "He's not intimidated by anyone."

That brought on a UA timeout, and the Wildcats scored out of the break to go back up by eight.

But Simpson responded by draining a long three, then recording a steal and collecting two free throws to cut Arizona's lead to 29-26.

The Wildcats then hit a long 3-pointer and Battey hit two free throws just before the halftime buzzer to send Colorado into the locker room trailing by four, 32-28.

Simpson finished the half with a career-high 14 points and the Buffs did not have a turnover in the final seven minutes of the half.

CU also forced eight Arizona turnovers in the first half, which the Buffs converted into 10 points.

TURNING POINT: Colorado managed to stay within striking range early in the second half. But a 7-0 Arizona run gave the Wildcats a 15-point lead at the 14:02 mark and the Buffs never managed to pull within single digits again.

WHAT IT MEANS: The Buffs fell to 0-3 against ranked teams this year, with losses earlier to UCLA and Tennessee. Colorado now needs to salvage a split on this road trip, which wraps up Saturday at Arizona State.

KEY STATISTICS: CU shot a season-low 33 percent from the floor (21-for-64), including 4-for-20 from 3-point range … The Wildcats shot 51 percent (29-for-57) and outrebounded the Buffs, 44-33, including a 27-12 edge in the second half … CU also attempted just three free throws the entire second half and missed all three … Arizona had a 42-28 edge in points in the paint and the Buffs gave up 22 fast-break points.

QUOTEWORTHY: "It's disappointing, but we don't have any time to feel sorry for ourselves. We have to get up tomorrow, put together a game plan for Arizona State and get ready to strap it on Saturday night in Tempe. We have to salvage a split on this road trip. That's the goal." — CU head coach Tad Boyle

NEXT UP: Colorado wraps up a two-game trip to the desert Saturday with an 8 p.m. game vs. Arizona State in Temple (ESPN2) at Desert Financial Arena. ASU (5-8 overall, 1-2 Pac-12) was originally scheduled to play Utah on Thursday, but the game was postponed because of Covid protocols within the ASU program.