BOULDER, Colo. — There’s a reason the Arizona Wildcats undergo media training before the season, rarely saying anything inflammatory in public and generally keeping their emotions inside the locker room.
“All-In,” they like to call it.
During Arizona’s 88-61 destruction of Colorado on Saturday, Buffaloes forward Xavier Johnson and his teammates found out why.
Johnson was the one who predicted a “20-point blowout” in the rematch Saturday after UA beat Colorado a month ago, saying the then-top-ranked Wildcats “aren’t that good.” The Wildcats were even better on Saturday than they were a month ago — back when they also had forward Brandon Ashley.
On Saturday, Arizona stifled Colorado into missing its first 15 field goal attempts, out-rebounded the Buffaloes 38-30 and combined those two strengths with unusually good shooting.
Arizona hit 60.3 percent from the field and made 8 of 17 three-pointer attempts (47.1 percent) to easily overcome the fact that it made just 10 of 19 free throws.
“We put it all together,” guard T.J. McConnell said. “We jumped on them in the first half. We pretty much did everything well, especially defense. It’s what we pride ourselves on.”
The victory was significant on many levels for the Wildcats, now 25-2 overall and 12-2 in the Pac-12. It was easily their best overall game since Ashley was lost for the season Feb. 1, with the Wildcats having settled into what was a nine-man rotation Saturday.
The game also moved Arizona two games ahead in the Pac-12 race over UCLA, which lost at Stanford earlier Saturday, leaving the Wildcats in a strong position with four games to go.
It was Arizona’s fourth victory over Colorado (20-8, 9-6) in the five times the teams have played since the Buffaloes beat Arizona in the final of the 2012 Pac-12 tournament.
So maybe it’s a rivalry on the outside, but Miller is looking inward.
“We have great respect” for Colorado, Miller said when asked if he felt a rivalry with the Buffs. “I don’t think you have any of our players saying anything negative about Colorado or ‘we’re gonna win by 20 or all that.’ We don’t do that.
“For us, we have to play the right way. We have to compete hard. We respect every opponent, and certainly we respect Colorado.”
Predictably, neither leading scorer Aaron Gordon nor point guard McConnell bit when asked whether Johnson’s bravado meant anything. And when Miller was asked about whether those words entered at least the back of his players’ minds, he offered a faint smile.
“I’ll let you guys kinda figure that one out,” he said.
In the end, despite the passion of Colorado fans and the ESPN “College GameDay” excitement, the Buffaloes might have been the flatter team.
The Buffs missed their first 15 field goal attempts, failing to hit one for the first 10 minutes of the game and trailed by as many as 17 points before coming back somewhat later in the half.
Arizona was leading 22-5 before Jaron Hopkins hit a three-pointer with 9:48 left in the half to end the Buffaloes’ field goal drought. Colorado later scored seven straight points to cut UA’s lead to 26-21. The Buffs cut it to six before the halftime buzzer when Askia Booker hit a 10-footer in a crowd of defenders.
But it wasn’t enough. Colorado went on to cut the Wildcats’ lead to four points in the second half before UA went on a 29-6 run to take control of the game.
“I don’t feel we had the most energy,” Colorado guard Booker said. “We were giving up layup after layup, and they hit some tough shots. I think we got ourselves back in the game. … We just gave it away in the second half.”
UA took a 31-25 lead at halftime, but Colorado cut it to 37-33 three minutes into the second half.
That’s when Gordon hit a three-pointer in the corner and scored inside to give UA a 42-33 lead and start the big run.
“That made us feel really good that we had our offense clicking like that,” Gordon said. “We’re a very good defensive team, so when our offense is clicking, we’re very tough to beat.”
Gordon, who fouled out and was a limited factor in UA’s overtime win over Utah on Wednesday, led the Wildcats with 23 points, and Nick Johnson had 20. Guard Gabe York had 10 rebounds, and McConnell had 10 assists to no turnovers.