— Univ. of Arizona (@UofA) February 23, 2014
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MN-Magic number to win regular-season title
z-Eliminated from regular-season title contention
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Xavier Johnson’s prediction of tonight’s rematch with Arizona — “That’ll be a 20-point blowout” — was a little off.
The fourth-ranked Wildcats triumphed by 27 in front of a stunned Coors Event Center crowd and national television audience. Nobody could have forecast Arizona’s 88-61 victory against the Buffaloes, who won five of their previous six games without fallen leader Spencer Dinwiddie.
Sean Miller said he told team in locker room: 'I've never been more proud to be part of a team than this one.' #ArizonaWildcats
— Anthony Gimino (@AGWildcatReport) February 23, 2014
Arizona (25-2 overall and ahead by two games over UCLA in the Pac-12 standings with a 12-2 record) lost two of its previous five in down-to-the-wire games at Cal and ASU without injured Brandon Ashley. That prompted some fans and national media pundits to wonder if the Wildcats lost their mojo.
If they lost that — how could they with nail-biters against probable NCAA tourney teams? — they certainly found their rhythm five minutes into the second half.
The Buffaloes (20-8 and 9-6) never got closer than six points after Askia Booker made a jumper with 15:22 left to cut the Arizona lead to 43-37. The Wildcats went on a 16-4 knockout run over the next five minutes to take a 59-41 lead with 10:25 left.
Nick Johnson, showing signs of breaking free from his personal cold spell, made three jumpers in the run, including his only three-pointer of the game. He finished 1-for-5 from beyond the arc but was 8-of-15 overall and finished with 20 points. Johnson made only 23 of his previous 79 attempts (29.1 percent) over a six-game span entering the game.
Aaron Gordon played his best game of the season — really his best half of the season — with a career-high 23 points by elevating his game against the Buffaloes midway through the second half.
This win shows what Sean Miller is about as a coach. Guys have bought in, been ready, and fought through adversity all season. #BearDown
— A.J. Bramlett (@AJBRAMLETT) February 23, 2014
He converted two highlight-reel dunks in the 16-4 run, including a breakaway double-pump, behind-the-back jam following a T.J. McConnell steal. The four transition points were part of his 21 second-half points after scoring only two points in the first half.
Gordon showed a shooting touch from the perimeter for the first time this season. His three-pointer with 6:22 remaining put Arizona ahead 72-47. Gordon was 1-for-10 from three-point range in conference games entering the game. He doubled that amount against the Buffaloes in his two attempts.
His eight rebounds were part of an effort that enabled Arizona to outrebound Colorado 38-30. The teams each had 32 boards in the first meeting last month.
— Arizona Athletics (@AZATHLETICS) February 23, 2014
Gordon and Johnson were the obvious standouts tonight, but Arizona coach Sean Miller received a balanced effort with the 11 players he utilized. Every Arizona player scored except reserve center Zach Peters. The Wildcats, who were in an offensive funk in recent weeks, shot a season-high 60.3 percent from the field.
Freshman guard Elliott Pitts had his best game, making 2 of 3 from three-point range to finish with six points. Gabe York completed a fruitful road trip after scoring 15 points at Utah. The sophomore guard grabbed a career-high 10 rebounds against the Buffaloes.
McConnell had 10 assists without a turnover. He completed the road trip to Utah and Colorado — the toughest in the league other than Tempe and Tucson — with an unbelievable 16 assists with no turnovers and seven steals. Look for McConnell’s name to be prominently discussed this week for the Cousy Award, given to the nation’s top point guard.
McConnell also matched his season-high in steals with four.
With such a dominating performance, especially in the second half, it’s an understatement that Arizona answered Xavier Johnson’s claim last month that the Wildcats “weren’t that good.”
Johnson, who had 21 points in Tucson, had only five points on 1-of-10 shooting from the field.