The No. 3 Arizona Wildcats couldn't have picked a more fitting opponent for their Pac-12 opener this season.
It was Colorado, which will face the UA (12-0) at McKale Center on Thursday, that effectively ended the Wildcats' season last March with a 53-51 victory in the Pac-12 Conference Tournament final.
The Buffaloes (10-2) marched on to the NCAA tournament with the Pac-12's automatic bid while the shell-shocked Wildcats slumped into the NIT, where they lost quietly to eighth-seeded Bucknell in the first round.
"It's tough coming back from such a loss like that," guard Kyle Fogg said of the Colorado game after Arizona lost in the NIT. "I know I'm still kind of numb."
Combined with Colorado's 64-63 win over Arizona in Boulder, where the Wildcats went 3 of 20 from three-point range and failed to score on their final possession, and you could even say that the Buffs have already become one of the Wildcats' top rivals despite entering just their second season in the conference.
But Colorado coach Tad Boyle said he wouldn't go that far.
"I'd like to think that," Boyle said. "I think last year we gained some respect and obviously, I've got great respect for Sean (Miller, UA coach).
"But I do think it's a big game because of what we did last year and certainly because of what Arizona has done this year. And it's the first game in conference play, when everyone wants to get off to a great start."
Colorado got off to a strong start in nonconference play this season, beating Baylor and two other teams to win the Charleston Classic, and winning its first six games despite having lost guard Carlon Brown and two other starters from last season.
Then the Buffs lost by seven at Wyoming on Dec. 1 and, a week later, were drubbed 90-54 at Kansas.
"That was an embarrassing performance," Boyle said. "I was embarrassed and our players were embarrassed. It was a combination of factors. We didn't take care of the ball - and when you do that in Allen Fieldhouse, it's like an avalanche that snowballs downhill. You can't stop it."
Since then, Colorado has recovered to beat Fresno State, NAU and Hartford, entering Thursday's game at 10-2. But the Buffs, like Arizona, have struggled with turnovers at times.
While the UA had 18 against East Tennessee State in the first round of the Diamond Head Classic on Dec. 22, Colorado had 21 in Saturday's 80-52 win over Hartford. UA averages 14.5 turnovers a game and Colorado 15.2.
"We're talking about that, trying to control tempo a little bit, and pick and choose when we want to run, and making good decisions with the ball," Boyle said.
"The frustrating thing in the Hartford game was we had 21 turnovers and a lot of them were unforced. You have to have your players understand when you attack."
The good news for Colorado is that the Buffs have a quickly maturing group of younger players to mold around double-double machine Andre Roberson (who averages 12.1 points and 12.1 rebounds).
Sophomore guards Askia Booker (14.8 points a game) and Spencer Dinwiddie (14.4) are the team's top two scorers, while freshman big man Josh Scott is averaging 13.2 points and 5.9 rebounds. Scott, who managed 19 points against Kansas and Jayhawks center Jeff Withey, had 21 points and 10 rebounds against Hartford.
"Before the season, leadership was a question mark," Boyle said. "But I feel better about it today than two months ago.
"You face adversity and find out in tough times who's really going to step up."
• Arizona remained No. 3 in both The Associated Press Top 25 media poll and the ESPN/USA Today coaches poll, behind Duke and Michigan. No other Pac-12 teams were ranked, but UCLA received six AP votes while Colorado received six votes in the ESPN/USA Today poll.
• UCLA's Shabazz Muhammad was named the Pac-12's Player of the Week after scoring 27 points to help the Bruins beat then-No. 7 Missouri on Friday. Arizona had nominated forward Solomon Hill, who was named the Diamond Head Classic MVP last Tuesday.
• Two Arizona games have been adjusted for television. The Wildcats' Jan. 12 game at Oregon State was shifted from 7:30 to 6 p.m. and will still be televised on ESPNU. Also, the Cats' Feb. 6 home game with Stanford was set for 7 p.m. on ESPN2 (it had been scheduled for either 7 or 9 p.m.).
On StarNet: Find out what fans asked during Monday's chat with Bruce Pascoe at live.azstarnet.com