Thursday will be the first time this season that the Wildcats have a chance to avenge one of their Pac-12 losses. Colorado will come to the McKale Center for a 7 PM MST tip-off, boasting an 8-3 record in the conference play and a 16-7 record overall. It is tied for second place in the Pac-12 and only one game ahead of Arizona, who heads into the game with a 7-4 conference record and 16-8 overall record.
Colorado has won 5 of its last 6, including a home sweep of the Oregon schools this past weekend. The Buffaloes won their last game, against Oregon, in exciting fashion. The game came down to the wire and a single free throw by senior guard Nate Tomlinson, with one second left, gave Colorado the 72-71 win. The close win knocked Oregon out of a logjam for first and second place and into a tie with Arizona for third-place. The victory came just 2 days after Colorado dismantled Oregon State 82-60.
The last time Arizona and Colorado faced off, in the inaugural Pac-12 game between the two teams, it came down to the last shot. Colorado won 64-63 as Kevin Parrom's last second 3-pointer fell short of the rim. Colorado won 64-63 at Coors Events Center in Boulder, but it won't have its supportive home crowd to back it. This time around, the Buffs will have to deal with the raucous McKale Center crowd. When these teams matched up a few weeks ago, 6-foot-5 guard Carlon Brown led the team in scoring. The 215-pound senior had 19 points on 7 for 16 shooting as well as hitting a team-high two 3-pointers. He also crashed the boards, picking up 6 rebounds along with 2 assists. Brown played the most minutes with 35 and was the best player on the floor for Colorado.
Pitching in with the second most points in the game was fellow guard Spencer Dinwiddie. At 6-foot-4, 175 pounds, the freshman added 13 points and 2 steals in the victory, creating havoc on the offensive and defensive end. Dinwiddie also pitched in 4 rebounds and an assist. He may be looked to more after scoring 16 points against the Ducks and 10 against Oregon State.
Joining Brown and Dinwiddle in the back court is team leader, 6-foot-3 Tomlinson. At 190-pounds, the senior guard had 3 assists against Arizona. Tomlinson doesn't add very many points, as he only took 2 shots, and finished with just 3 points. He doesn't beat teams off the dribble or shoot over any defenders, but his real value is leading the team and having the offense flow through him.
Another big player that put up numbers against the Cats is the 6-foot-9 forward Austin Dufault. The 225-pound senior scored 12 points on 4 for 6 shooting in 29 minutes. He also grabbed 6 rebounds, including 3 on the offensive end. Dufault was held to just 9 points on Saturday and could be hungry for more on Thursday.
The last of the starters is going to be the most dangerous player on the court Thursday. 6-foot-7, 195-pound sophomore Andre Roberson was held scoreless by Jesse Perry in Boulder. The forward averages 11.1 points per game, but Perry buckled down on defense.
He also held Roberson to just 7 rebounds, which seems to be a good number until you see that Roberson averages 11.2 boards per game. After being shut down last time, there is little doubt that Roberson will be hungry to make a big impact this time around.
First off the bench is 6-foot-1 guard Askia Booker. The 175-pound freshman had 9 points on 2 of 6 from the field in 18 minutes. He is a capable back-up that can hold his own on the court. His game has grown in the past few weeks, so expect him to have a little more impact on the game than he did last time around.
Another back-up guard expecting to play decent minutes on Thursday is 6-foot-3 junior Sabitino Chen. The 180-pounder played 11 minutes against the Cats and scored 4 points. The only other stat he accumulated was a lone rebound. Chen is mainly used to give the starting guards some rest.
Backing up the big men is center Shane Harris-Tunks. The 6-foot-11 sophomore also had 4 points on 2 for 4 shooting. Harris-Tunks won't score a whole bunch, but has the size to pull rebounds down with ease. He had 5 of them in just 15 minutes against Arizona. Harris-Tunks will likely see major minutes if Arizona keeps up its current offensive plan of attacking the basket and creating foul trouble problems for the opposition.
The last notable reserve for the Buffs is sophomore guard Jeremy Adams. At 6-foot-5, 205-pounds, Adams only played 5 minutes during the game in Boulder, going scoreless with just 1 rebound. There should be little need for him unless foul trouble arises.
A win against Colorado will put the Wildcats right in the thick of the hunt for the Pac-12 title and go a long way for their playoff hopes. A loss could drop them from the running for the conference crown and all but doom them to a second tier postseason tournament.
The Wildcats have been relegated to a 7 player rotation, with the loss of Kevin Parrom for the season and the possible loss of Jordin Mayes. While Mayes did not play well against Colorado the first time around, Parrom had 6 points and 5 rebounds, and had the ball in his hands at the end of the game.
Instead, Arizona will look to a re-emerging Nick Johnson, who averaged 10.5 points on the recent road trip. He struggled against Colorado the first time, but will need to play better on Thursday. Johnson will be vital to the team's success for the rest of the season.
The Wildcats will also need seniors Perry and Kyle Fogg to carry over their excellent play from last weekend into Thursday's game. Perry scored 20 points against Colorado and will be asked to carry a big load this time around as well. Fogg, who didn't have a great game, finished with 16 points, but earned half of them at the free throw line.
The key player for Arizona, should Mayes be unable to compete, will be Josiah Turner. He played excellent defense in Saturday's win against Stanford, but cannot afford to get into foul trouble, as the Wildcats lack a suitable back-up. The freshman has been asked to lead the team in the previous weeks, dating back to his suspension against Florida, and being the only true point guard is something that shouldn't hurt his confidence or swagger one bit.
When it comes down to it, if Arizona shoots well, it usually finds itself in a position to win. The wildcats shot just 15 percent from beyond the arc in Boulder, but should feel more comfortable at home. Colorado plays well at home, but has only played 6 true road games this season. Arizona needs to shoot well to win and Colorado needs to adjust to McKale fast in order to stay in the game. Either way, it will be an interesting rematch.