Arizona Basketball

Colorado, Arizona Wildcats rivalry reminiscent to formative years of UA-UCLA duel


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PP: Productivity Points (Points, assists, rebounds, steals, blocked shots, FGs made, FTs made added together and then subtracted by missed FGs, missed FTs, personal fouls and turnovers)
MIN: Minutes played overall
PR: Productivity rating per minute played (Productivity points divided by minutes played)


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Colorado, in only its third year in the Pac-12, is to Arizona what the Wildcats were to UCLA in the formative years of that distinguished rivalry.

The Arizona-UCLA rivalry began in earnest after Lute Olson was hired in 1983. The Wildcats achieved their first Pac-10 title on UCLA’s home court in Olson’s third season after the Wildcats went 1-17 in league play the year before his arrival.

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At that point, UCLA had two conference titles since the Pac-10 formed when Arizona and ASU joined the league in 1978-79. Oregon State won three under Ralph Miller and Washington two under Marv Harshman. The Arizona-UCLA rivalry emerged as the best, however, with the schools capturing the league title from the 1985-86 season until Stanford won it in 1998-99.

The comments made by Colorado guard Xavier Johnson after the Buffaloes’ 69-57 loss to Arizona on Thursday night indicate the Buffaloes loathe Arizona in the same manner that the Wildcats hungered for victories over UCLA three decades ago.

“We were playing the No. 1 team in the nation, but they weren’t that good. There’s no excuse for not getting the win.”

About the rematch Feb. 22 in Boulder, Colo., “That’ll be a 20-point blowout.”


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Without star point guard Spencer Dinwiddie, lost for the season with a knee injury, Johnson said, “We have better players than them.”

Ill-advised, yet compelling quotes by Johnson, whose comments indicate Colorado believes it belongs with Arizona among the nation’s elite.

Earlier this season, before he suffered his season-ending injury, Dinwiddie told, “Our goal is to go 18-0 (in the conference).”

At the Pac-12 Media Day, in response to a question from The Arizona Daily Star’s Bruce Pascoe about Colorado being in a group below Arizona that will challenge the Wildcats, Dinwiddie responded: “We don’t view Arizona as the top, as the cream and everybody else (as) the rest. We view ourselves as the cream and everybody else can fight for the rest of the spots.”

Tad Boyle’s tough-as-nails personality is rubbing off on his team, and it’s apparent that Colorado basketball will be around for a while.

Although Johnson’s words smack of cockiness and a lack of respect for Arizona, his demeanor is a product of how Colorado has competed with the Wildcats since joining the Pac-12 in 2011-12.

The Buffaloes beat Arizona in the Pac-12 tournament title game in their first season in the conference. Arizona is 4-3 against Colorado in that span with each team winning on its home court and a split in two conference tournament games. Colorado is 25-18 in Pac-12 games since the league expanded in 2011-12. Arizona is not too far away at 30-12.

In Miller’s first season with Arizona in 2009-10, the Wildcats and Colorado battled in an overtime game at the Maui Invitational when the Buffaloes were still part of the Big 12. Arizona prevailed 91-87 in what was the final year of Jeff Bzdelik’s tenure with Colorado.

Boyle is 84-42 in four seasons as Colorado’s coach. In the same span, Miller is 99-28 with Arizona. Boyle has a Pac-12 tournament title. Miller has a Pac-12 regular-season title in 2010-11.

Colorado's Xavier Johnson led all scorers with 21 points in the Buffaloes' loss to Arizona Thursday

Colorado’s Xavier Johnson led all scorers with 21 points in the Buffaloes’ loss to Arizona Thursday

The Buffaloes have the feeling that they are right there with Arizona. Boyle is only 51 and Miller 45. This is just the beginning of what could be a special competition between the coaches in the Pac-12, especially if the league splits into North and South divisions as in football.

Boyle made it a point after Thursday’s loss that the Buffaloes “won the second half” and also mentioned: “The good news is we get another crack at these guys, at our place.”

“We have to use the positives out of this,” Boyle was quoted as saying by “We won the second half. We continued to battle. We stuck together. We didn’t fall apart.”

Johnson echoed Boyle’s comment, saying, “We actually beat them in the second half, so we were able to show that we can win and we can beat the No. 1 team.”

Boyle is a veteran coach of 19 years. He knows what to say. Johnson hales from Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei High School (the same powerhouse that has produced highly confident players Reggie Geary, Miles Simon and Arizona recruit Stanley Johnson). Xavier Johnson is only a sophomore. He does not know how to say the right things like his coach, obviously.

Boyle is making it a fight to consistently have Colorado as one of the elite Pac-12 programs. As the new guy on the block, he’s coming out swinging in how he motivates his players. His players are taking that approach and are expressing it with a no-holds-barred attitude.

Olson had the same approach when building Arizona into a conference power, working hard for every recruit and molding a winning culture, in the shadow of UCLA. The biggest difference: Arizona’s players, led by the likes of Sean Elliott and Steve Kerr at the time, never used bravado when discussing their matchup with the Bruins.

They let their effort do the talking.

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[table “” not found /] publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He also writes articles for Bleacher Report, Lindy’s College Sports and


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