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Colorado-Arizona Preview

AP - Sports

Arizona put on a defensive clinic in its Pac-12 tournament opener, matching the most lopsided victory in the history of the event.

Coach Sean Miller's team has given Colorado fits, too.

The No. 4 Wildcats look to clamp down against the Buffaloes again when these teams meet in the semifinals Friday night in Las Vegas.

Arizona (29-3) was at its best in Thursday's 71-39 rout of Utah, setting the record for fewest points allowed in the tournament. The Wildcats also held the Utes to a tournament record-low 25.5 percent shooting and outrebounded them 39-24.

"They took pride in guarding us," Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak said. "They took the life out of us."

Arizona is allowing 58.1 points per game to rank as one of the best defensive teams in the country.

"I think that's been our biggest thing this year," said junior standout Nick Johnson, averaging a team-high 16.1 points. "When we get stops and get rebounds and get the push, our athleticism is really at play. I think finishing with dunks and around the basket gets everybody going.

"It's definitely one of our strong points."

While the Wildcats concluded the regular season with a 64-57 loss at Oregon, they kicked things into a higher gear Thursday.

"It kind of just refocused us a little bit," Johnson said of that defeat. "We got into practice a little bit. We had some work to get done. Just really trying to come here and get our second goal of the year.

"Our three goals were to win the regular season Pac-12 championship, come here and get this one, and then go from there."

While the Wildcats are thinking big, they first need to get by the Buffaloes (23-10). Winner in three straight in the series, Arizona beat Colorado 69-57 on Jan. 23 before cruising to an 88-61 road victory Feb. 22.

Johnson and freshman Aaron Gordon averaged a combined 18.3 points in those games as the Wildcats shot 54.7 percent and limited the Buffaloes to 35.6 percent.

Despite his team's success in the series, Miller isn't taking anything for granted.

"We're going to have our hands full," Miller said. "We're just excited that we're one of the four teams remaining in this tournament.

"When you have as many fans that have traveled the way we have to Vegas, you almost feel like it's your obligation to perform well and advance. ... I would imagine it's only going to pick up moving towards (Friday)."

Fifth-seeded Colorado could have tired legs after pulling out a pair of 59-56 wins through the first two rounds of the tournament. Junior Askia Booker had 21 points against last-place USC on Wednesday, then scored 17 in Thursday's victory over California.

"You could tell from the start that our players really wanted this game and they had that intensity about them that was pretty evident," coach Tad Boyle said.

While Colorado may have already done enough to make the NCAA tournament, beating the Wildcats would make their case even stronger.

"We're going to have to guard Arizona like they guard everybody else," Boyle said. "But the one thing about (our) guys, they're playing with a sense of purpose. ... These guys are focused. They're confident. Again, Arizona is a good team, but we're a good team too.

"I told these guys in the locker room, all you can ask for in life is an opportunity. We have an opportunity (Friday) to go play against one of the top teams in the country and prove ourselves."

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