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Final Pac-12 road show begins for CU Buffs men's basketball at No. 10 Arizona

Jan. 3—The full grind of the conference schedule remains down the road for the Colorado men's basketball team. Yet already the Buffaloes have shown a knack for resiliency.

When the Buffaloes traveled to New York to face nationally-ranked Miami, they did so knowing they would play without standout freshman Cody Williams, who was coming off a pair of 21-point games. The Buffs shook it off and dominated the Hurricanes.

When senior forward Tristan da Silva rolled an ankle last week just ahead of CU's Pac-12 Conference opener, a team missing two starters didn't miss a beat, recording a home sweep to begin league play.

The Buffs will need that resiliency more than ever on Thursday night.

Just three games into the final Pac-12 slate, CU will face its toughest challenge of the conference schedule when it visits the 10th-ranked Arizona Wildcats at the McKale Center. An eventful first two months of the season for the Buffs continues with the toughest assignment of the entire league schedule in a venue that has never witnessed a Buffs victory.

"It's packed. Everyone's right there. It's loud. It's a fun environment to play in," CU guard Julian Hammond III said. "It's huge for sure. They're a great team. They're the favorites to win (the Pac-12), so going down there and beating them in their building would be huge for us and our confidence. We haven't had our full team, so it would be huge to go down there and win.

"We all trust each other. If Tristan can't play, all right, next guy. Cody can't play? All right, next guy. We have a lot of depth and I feel like we're older. We're confident wherever and whoever we're playing against."

Throughout their run as rivals in the Pac-12 — both programs are headed to the Big 12 next season — UA and the Buffs both have leaned heavily into defense and rebounding as program bedrocks. Yet on paper, Thursday's matchup could shape up to be an offensive clinic.

CU enters the weekend leading the Pac-12 in field goal percentage (.519), 3-point percentage (.407) and free throw percentage (.773) while ranking second in scoring (85.1). Arizona leads the league in scoring (92.3) while ranking second in field goal percentage (.495) and fourth in 3-point shooting (.362). And the Wildcats have done it while playing a much more demanding nonconference schedule than the Buffs.

"When you play at Arizona, you've got to try to keep them out of a rhythm offensively," CU head coach Tad Boyle said. "Your defense has to be rock-solid. It starts when you have the ball by taking care of the ball and not having live-ball turnovers. Which turn into dunks and layups, which gets the crowd into it. And taking great shots. Having great shot selection and taking care of the ball on offense helps you get your defense set. Once your defense is set, hopefully you take them out of rhythm."

CU faces an Arizona squad that might be coming off a wake-up call, as the Wildcats lost 100-82 at Stanford on Sunday while going 7-for-26 on 3-pointers. The Cardinal showed UA could be vulnerable from the 3-point line, going 16-for-25 (.640), but given the uncertain status of da Silva and Williams, along with the near-given the Buffs won't shoot 64% from long range in Tucson, the result could come down to which defense is better able to slow the opposing high-scoring attack.

"It just goes to show you, it doesn't matter what league you're in. Doesn't matter who you're playing, where you're playing, when you're playing. You'd better be ready to play," Boyle said. "Certain teams can play out of their mind. Stanford played really, really well."

CU Buffs men's basketball at No. 10 Arizona Wildcats

TIPOFF: Thursday, 7:30 p.m. MT, McKale Center.

TV/RADIO: ESPN/KOA 850 AM and 94.1 FM.

RECORDS: Colorado 11-2, 2-0 Pac-12 Conference; Arizona 10-3, 1-1.

COACHES: Colorado — Tad Boyle, 14th season (283-174, 339-240 overall). Arizona — Tommy Lloyd, 3rd season (71-14 at UA and overall).

KEY PLAYERS: Colorado — G KJ Simpson, 6-2, Jr. (21.1 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 4.5 apg, .562 FG%, .471 3%); F J'Vonne Hadley, 6-6, Sr. (10.2 ppg, 5.5 rpg, .543 FG%); G Julian Hammond III, 6-2, Jr. (9.8 ppg, .540 FG%, .477 3%); C Eddie Lampkin Jr., 6-11, Sr. (9.4 ppg, 7.7 rpg, .517 FG%); G/F Luke O'Brien, 6-8, Sr. (7.4 ppg, 4.5 rpg, .406 3%). Arizona — G Caleb Love, 6-4, Sr. (17.2 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 3.2 apg); C Oumar Ballo, 7-0, R-Sr. (13.2 ppg, 8.2 rpg, .637 FG%); G Pelle Larsson, 6-6, Sr. (12.1 ppg, 4.2 rpg., .500 3%); F Keshad Johnson, 6-7, Sr. (12.0 ppg, 6.2 rpg, .533 FG%); G Kylan Boswell, 6-2, So. (10.9 ppg, 4.2 apg, .403 3%).

NOTES: A win would give the Buffs their first 3-0 start within league since the 2011-12 season, their first in the Pac-12. ... CU is 0-12 all-time at the McKale Center (0-11 since joining the Pac-12) and has lost its last 13 road games overall in Tucson. ... UA (plus-13.1) and the Buffs (plus-12.0) boast the top two average rebounding margins in the Pac-12. The teams also own the top two assist totals in the league, with the Wildcats averaging 19.8 and CU averaging 18.9. ... The Buffs have lost their past 18 games against ranked foes in true road games. CU hasn't posted a win against a top-10 team in a true road game since winning at No. 5 Missouri on Jan. 15, 1973. ... The Buffs own a six-game winning streak for the first time since late in the 2020-21 season. ... Arizona's demanding nonconference schedule included wins against Duke, Michigan State, Wisconsin and Alabama. Prior to Sunday's loss against Stanford, the Wildcats' only setbacks were against Purdue, currently ranked No. 1, and in double overtime against Florida Atlantic, which has been ranked all season. ... The Buffs went 2-8 in Pac-12 road games last year. ... CU's three-game road trip continues on Saturday at Arizona State (6 p.m., ESPNU).