LAS VEGAS — Again? This is the Pac-12 tournament’s version of “Groundhog Day.”
A familiar foe for Arizona in the Pac-12 tournament will play the Wildcats in a quarterfinal matchup tomorrow at 1 p.m., Tucson time, at T-Mobile Arena.
Colorado (17-14) will play Arizona (24-7) for the sixth time out of seven years in the tournament after the Buffaloes joined the Pac-12 in 2012. The Buffaloes dispatched ASU 97-85 in a first-round game today thanks to 13 shots made from 3-point range.
ASU (20-11) must wait now to learn of its NCAA tournament fate after losing five of its last six games.
Arizona, the regular season champion and No. 1 seed of the tournament, is 4-0 against Colorado in games played in Las Vegas. Tad Boyle’s team beat Sean Miller and Arizona in the 2012 title game in Los Angeles.
Colorado, which split with Arizona in the regular season, now has a 7-0 record in Pac-12 tournament first round games and the Buffaloes have the distinction of being the only team to win four games in four days to capture the conference tournament title (in 2012).
“We’ve played well against them both times,” Boyle said of the two regular-season games against Arizona. “I thought we played well in Tucson (in an 80-71 loss). We didn’t win, but our guys rose to the occasion.”
Boyle left the arena with a limp wearing a boot on his right foot. He suffered what appeared to be a calf injury after running toward players with 7 seconds left in an attempt to break up a melee. ASU guard Tra Holder ran to Colorado forward Tyler Bey and shoved him after a meaningless alley-oop dunk.
Holder was ejected for a flagrant foul and Colorado’s George King and ASU’s De’Quon Lake each were assessed technical fouls.
“Let me first start by apologizing to Arizona State for what happened at the end there,” Boyle said at the postgame press conference. “I take full responsibility for that. … We certainly weren’t trying to rub it in their face.”
Boyle’s focus now shifts to Miller and Arizona, a program that he said he took “extra satisfaction” beating in Boulder, Colo., in January because of the FBI probe that incriminated former assistant coach Book Richardson on federal bribery charges.
Boyle might be lame with his calf, but his players came away from the ASU game today unscathed and confident heading into Round 3 this season against Arizona.
“I feel like we’re good,” Bey said. “I think we’re the better team, to be honest. I believe in these guys and we believe in each other. I think that we’re good.
“We have to play real tough. Throughout the season, we’ve had to push through things and experience a lot of games, so I think we will be ready for it.”
Colorado, which is mostly known for its defense, matched ASU shot for shot, particularly from 3-point range. The Buffaloes made 7 of 11 from beyond the arc in the first half when they took a 41-37 halftime lead.
The Buffaloes shot 53.1 percent from the field in the first half and kept that hot shooting going throughout, finishing at 53.3 percent. They finished 13 of 21 (61.9 percent) from 3-point range.
Colorado’s defense was first in the Pac-12 in defensive field goal percentage at .422 during the regular season. The Buffaloes were third in the league in rebounding margin at 2.3 a game.
Colorado outrebounded ASU 39-26, but the Buffaloes did not have a decided edge against the scrappy Sun Devils in second-chance points (12-9). Colorado outscored ASU 38-24 in points in the paint, however.
“That was a real positive for Colorado if they could do that (shoot well from 3-point range) because they have good athletes on the front line,” ASU coach Bobby Hurley said. “And (Colorado Pac-12 All-Freshman guard) McKinley Wright, the court opens up more for him.
“What an impressive performance for him today in this type of game — 20 points, 11 assists and eight rebounds. That’s a heck of a stat line for a freshman, so he’s obviously got a tremendous future in the league.”
The game had 19 lead changes before Colorado gained some separation with a 15-1 run to take a 71-61 lead with 7:40 left in regulation. D’Shawn Schwartz made two 3-pointers and Wright nailed another one in that pivotal run.
ASU’s shooting went cold from the field and free throw line, allowing Colorado to pull away. The Sun Devils did not make a shot in more than 4 minutes and were 1 of 10 from the field in one stretch. They finished 12 of 21 from the free throw line, including 9 of 14 in the second half.
The Buffaloes made 18 of 20 free throw attempts. Their discrepancy in free throws against Arizona in the loss at McKale Center was a topic of discussion for Boyle, who pointed out that the Wildcats benefited from an aggressive style of play.
Colorado shot 55.8 percent from the field in that game but was outscored 22-5 at the free throw line. Arizona made 22 of 23 shots from the line while Colorado attempted only eight free throws, making five.
“We need to come out with the same energy and try to keep them out of transition and try to control their post players,” Schwartz said. “They are really good all around, but we’ve beaten them one time and so we have to mimic that game plan.”
NOTES: ASU played 15 single-digit Pac-12 games during the regular season, the most since the 1996-97 season. The Sun Devils were 5-10 in those games. … Before the 12-point loss today, the Sun Devils were one of five teams without a double-digit loss this year, joining Mountain West Conference champion Nevada, Purdue, Villanova and ACC champion Virginia. Arizona has only one double-digit loss and it was a big one — 89-64 against Purdue in the Bahamas. … Arizona was 8-4 in single-digit games in the Pac-12. … Colorado started four freshmen and one senior against ASU. PG McKinley Wright IV, who originally committed to Archie Miller when Miller coached at Dayton, is particularly impressive, topping Chauncey Billups’ Colorado rookie record with 170 assists. Billups had 143 in 1995-96. Wright has the fourth-most points for a freshman in Colorado history with 446.
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.