Las Vegas, NV (SportsNetwork.com) - With a spot in the Pac-12 Conference Tournament title game on the line, the top-seeded Arizona Wildcats take on the fifth-seeded Colorado Buffaloes in the semifinals at MGM Grand Garden Arena on Friday night.
After receiving a bye in the first round, Arizona made quick work of Utah in the quarterfinals on Thursday, winning 71-39. The Wildcats, who are hoping to add the tournament crown to their regular-season title, have won six of their last seven games and are 29-3 overall, with the three losses coming by a combined 12 points.
Colorado pushed its way to the semifinals with back-to-back 59-56 victories over USC and fourth-seeded California. The Buffaloes have won three of their last four games, with the only loss in that span being a 66-65 setback in overtime to the same Golden Bears team they beat yesterday.
As they did to many teams in the conference this season, the Wildcats swept the series with Colorado. However, the Buffaloes actually lead the all-time series. The winner this time will face either UCLA or Stanford in the final.
Colorado found a way to win in another grizzly contest on Thursday, holding on for the win over California. Askia Booker continued his strong play of late, netting 17 points on 7-of-15 shooting, while Xavier Johnson cleared eight boards to help the Buffs to a 38-29 edge on the glass.
The task of carrying the load since leading scorer Spencer Dinwiddie (14.7 ppg) went down with an injury has fallen to Josh Scott (14.5 ppg, 8.8 rpg) and Booker (13.9 ppg), who have assumed expanded roles. Scott is a strong player on the inside. He had 11 points and six rebounds against California on Thursday. Booker has been a an erratic shooter in his career, netting just 39.3 percent from the floor this season, but he is averaging 19 ppg on 16- of-32 from the floor in the first two rounds. Xavier Johnson (12.1 ppg, 5 9 rpg) has also picked up the pace in terms of scoring recently, netting 24 points in the season finale, while scoring in double figures in 14 of the last 15 contests overall.
Arizona has relied on its defense all season and it did so yet again in the quarterfinals. The Wildcats limited the Utes to only 12 field goals on 25.5 percent shooting, and also outscored their opponent 13-4 off turnovers, and 12-2 out on the break.
Sean Miller, who was named the Pac-12 Coach of the Year, is mentoring one of the best defensive teams in the country this season. Arizona ranks in the top-10 in scoring defense (58.1 ppg), assists against (9.1 apg), and opponent field goal percentage (.382). With such dominant play at that end of the court, the Wildcats have not had to be as potent offensively, as they net just 73.4 ppg. Nick Johnson (16.1 ppg) and Aaron Gordon (12.3 ppg, 7.8 rpg) joined their coach in earning postseason hardware, with Johnson named the Pac-12 Player of the Year, and Gordon laying claim to the award for the top freshman. T.J. McConnell (8.3 ppg, 5.5 apg) has run the point well after transferring in from Duquesne. The team is still trying to find a consistent replacement for Brandon Ashley (11.5 ppg), but Kaleb Tarczewski (10.2 ppg, 6.6 rpg) has made strides in attempting to do so.