TUCSON, Ariz. — It was about as poor a start to a big-time matchup as could have been scripted for the Colorado Buffaloes.
Certainly it got a lot better. Yet it still ended the same way every trip to Arizona has ended since the Buffs joined the Pac-12 Conference — with a loss.
Although CU rallied from that rough start and made a game of it by halftime, an Arizona surge after halftime proved to be too much for the Buffs to overcome, as the sixth-ranked Wildcats pulled away for a 78-55 win at the McKale Center.
CU fell to 0-3 this season against ranked foes and is now 0-10 at the McKale Center since joining the Pac-12 ahead of the 2011-12 season.
“The first half, I was really proud of our guys,” CU head coach Tad Boyle said. “We battled back. We didn’t get off to a very good start. They got some easy baskets on us. I think we were a little nervous and let the crowd get in to us a little bit out of the gate. But I was proud of our guys in the first half, because we guarded. We didn’t shoot the ball necessarily well, but we shot well enough to keep us in striking distance and we were able to get to the foul line.
“The second half, we just got our tails kicked on the backboards. Arizona puts so much pressure on the rim. They do it in transition, but they also do it in the half-court. We got manhandled in the paint and on the boards, and obviously we couldn’t make a shot. We were taking a lot of bad shots, a lot of quick shots.”
The Buffs missed their first seven shots and committed five of their 14 turnovers within the first 8 minutes of the game. Arizona built a 15-point lead in the first half before freshman guard KJ Simpson, formerly a Wildcats signee, led a comeback.
Simpson scored five points in an 11-2 run that got CU back in the game, and moments later he scored five consecutive points to get the Buffs within three before UA headed to the locker room with a 32-28 advantage at the break.
However, the four-point deficit at halftime quickly became a fleeting memory. The start to the second half was much like the start of the first half for the Buffs, with Arizona burying the Buffs with a 17-6 run out of the gate. After holding a four-point rebounding advantage at halftime, the Buffs were outrebounded 23-16 in the second half.
“When (Arizona) started going on their run, we started feeling sorry for ourselves,” CU senior Even Battey said. “Got down on ourselves, stopped playing real hard and stopped doing the things to get us stops at the other end. We’ve got to be able to handle the run and be poised enough to handle the run.”
While Simpson kept the Buffs in the game, he didn’t get much help. CU’s starting frontcourt of Evan Battey, Jabari Walker and Tristan da Silva combined to go 8-for-27. Starting guards Keeshawn Barthelemy and Elijah Parquet weren’t much better, combining to go 3-for-12.
Overall, the Buffs shot just .328 overall, their lowest mark of the season, and went 4-for-20 on 3-pointers. Take Simpson’s 2-for-3 night from the arc out of that equation, and the rest of the Buffs were just 2-for-17 on 3-pointers.
Simpson finished with a season-high 17 points. He matched a season high with four assists, grabbed three rebounds, and also recorded a season-high three steals.
Arizona shot .567 in the second half to finish with a .509 mark overall.
“They shoot (over) 50 percent, we shoot 32 percent. They outrebound us by 11. It’s not rocket science,” Boyle said. “They were better than us tonight, and right now they’re a better basketball team than we are.”
What went right: Not much, though CU stayed close by going 9-for-9 at the free throw line in the first half.
What went wrong: Pick one. Arizona shot .509 overall and outrebounded the Buffs 44-33. CU shot a season-low .328 and went 4-for-20 on 3-pointers.
Star of the game: KJ Simpson. Simpson reveled against a crowd eager to root against him after he switched recruiting allegiances from UA to the Buffs, going 2-for-3 on 3-pointers and 5-for-5 at the free throw line while scoring a season-high 17 points. Simpson also recorded four assists, three rebounds, and three steals.
What’s next: The Buffs are scheduled to complete their two-game desert trip on Saturday at Arizona State (8 p.m. MT, ESPN2).
No. 6 Arizona 76, Colorado 55
COLORADO (11-4, 3-2 Pac-12)
Battey 3-10 2-2 9, Walker 2-7 0-0 4, da Silva 3-10 0-1 7, Barthelemy 1-6 0-0 2, Parquet 2-6 0-0 4, Simpson 5-11 5-5 17, Clifford 3-6 0-0 6, Hammond 0-1 0-0 0, O’Brien 2-4 2-2 6, Lovering 0-3 0-2 0. Totals 21-64 9-12 55.
ARIZONA (13-1, 4-0)
A.Tubelis 6-11 1-3 14, Koloko 3-5 1-2 7, Kriisa 1-5 0-0 2, Terry 4-6 1-2 9, Mathurin 4-7 4-6 13, Larsson 4-7 2-3 12, Kier 5-9 1-1 14, Ballo 2-4 1-2 5, Bal 0-1 0-0 0, Nowell 0-2 0-0 0, T.Tubelis 0-0 0-0 0, Weitman 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 29-57 11-19 76.
Halftime – Arizona 32-28. 3-point goals – Colorado 4-20 (Simpson 2-3, da Silva 1-1, Battey 1-6, Hammond 0-1, Barthelemy 0-2, Clifford 0-2, Walker 0-2, Parquet 0-3), Arizona 7-20 (Kier 3-4, Larsson 2-3, A.Tubelis 1-2, Mathurin 1-4, Bal 0-1, Nowell 0-1, Terry 0-1, Kriisa 0-4). Rebounds – Colorado 33 (Battey 7), Arizona 44 (Koloko 9). Assists – Colorado 12 (Simpson 4), Arizona 20 (Kriisa 10). Total fouls – Colorado 19, Arizona 18.