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Saturday, March 10, 2012
Rapid Reaction: Colorado 53, Arizona 51

By T.J. Berka


LOS ANGELES -- Reaction from Colorado's victory against Arizona in the Pac-12 tournament final.

Overview: Colorado is to the Pac-12 Conference this season what Jordan Knight, Jonathan Knight, Donnie Wahlberg, Joey McIntyre and Danny Wood were to the music industry in the early 1990s, as both sets of new kids moved to the top of the charts. The Buffaloes won the Pac-12 tournament title on Saturday at Staples Center, capping off a banner first season in the league and winning the first conference tournament title in school history. With the win, which wasn't clinched until Arizona guard Kyle Fogg's contested shot fell well short of the rim as the final buzzer sounded, No. 6-seeded Colorado qualifies for the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2003 and exorcises demons of having its bubble burst a year ago.

As for bubbles, Arizona's might have burst with the loss. Entering the Pac-12 tournament, the No. 4-seeded Wildcats were thought to be one of the teams that would fall just short of making the NCAA tournament, and it seems unlikely that wins against UCLA and Oregon State this weekend will be enough to get Arizona, which advanced to the Elite 8 a year ago, back to the big dance.

Turning point: The first eight minutes of the second half. A day after Arizona used a quick second-half start to overwhelm Oregon State, the Wildcats had the tables turned on them by Colorado on Saturday. The Buffaloes opened up the second half with a 17-8 run, expanding its 30-28 halftime lead to 47-36. Spencer Dinwiddie, who hit four 3-pointers en route to a team high 14 points, nailed a 3-pointer to put the Buffaloes up by double-digits.

Colorado led by as many as 12 in the second half, and needed every bit of the cushion that it established in the first eight minutes, as Arizona held the Buffaloes to only one field goal and three points over the final 9:10. The field goal, a dunk by Carlon Brown with 52.6 seconds left, provided the Buffs with the game-winning points, as Nate Tomlinson was able to force Fogg into a difficult game-tying attempt.

Key player: Dinwiddie got the Buffaloes going early, hitting three first-half 3-pointers, helping Colorado to its halftime lead. He finished with 14 points, one more than Brown and four more than Roberson, who compiled his 19th double-double of the season with 10 points and 11 rebounds. Fogg scored 12, leading the Wildcats.

Key stat: After being outrebounded by California in the semifinals, the Buffaloes crashed the boards against a strong Arizona team, outrebounding the Wildcats 37-29. Colorado held Arizona to 36.7 percent shooting, and only gave up five 3-pointers to the leading 3-point shooting team in the conference. The 3-point defense was especially effective in the second half, as Arizona misfired on all seven of its second-half attempts.

Miscellaneous: Saturday was Colorado's first conference championship game appearance since 1990, when it lost to Oklahoma in the Big 8 final. Meanwhile, the Wildcats made their seventh Pac-12 title appearance ... The Pac-12 tournament marked the first time the Buffaloes played on four consecutive days since turning the trick March 6-9, 1934 ... The Wildcats have the most Pac-12 tourney titles with four, but it's been 10 years since their last one.

What’s next: Besides a lot of celebration, the Buffaloes can sit back on Sunday knowing their NCAA ticket is punched, which is a rare feeling indeed for a program that has found itself sweating Selection Sunday more often than not. Arizona will have to sweat out its fate -- which most likely includes a trip to the NIT. But with what's considered the top recruiting class in the nation coming in next season, there will be better days ahead for the Wildcats.