Colorado upends No. 2 Arizona on Senior Day with 79-63 win
A little more than four minutes to go and there was Evan Battey, smile flashing from ear to ear as Arizona’s Dalen Terry and Bennedict Mathurin tried to wrestle the ball out of his arms. Officials tried to separate the players. A few more guys got involved from either side. Battey had kept Mathurin in front of him on the perimeter, forced the ball out of the hands of the Wildcats’ star guard, and then, when a 3-point attempt bounced short, ripped a rebound away from UA’s Pelle Larsson.
Tempers flared a bit. Arizona has been rolling. It ran into a stampeding Buffaloes team Saturday night, with Battey at the center. Just days removed from a 17-point loss at home to Arizona State, Colorado (19-10, 11-8 Pac-12) shocked the second-ranked Wildcats 79-63, and it used a scorching hot second half—in which Battey was a pure bully—to do it.
At the point of the scuffle, Colorado was up nine. Arizona (25-3, 15-2 Pac-12) was pressing the issue, jacking jumpers, unable to crack the Buff defense inside. The margin ballooned from there. Battey wasn’t letting go. Not this night.
“My ball,” he thought as he walked away from the mess, smile still shining for all inside the CU Events Center to see.
Officials awarded Battey a one-and-one at the foul line for the kerfuffle. He missed the free throw, but he made up for it a minute later by knocking down a pair back at the line. Jabari Walker soared in for a layup off the break 30 seconds later. Tristan Da Silva splashed a 3 from the corner 40 seconds after that and all of a sudden Colorado was up 75-59 on a team threatening for the No. 1 overall seed in the upcoming NCAA Tournament.
“The difference between two nights is sometimes incredible,” CU head coach Tad Boyle said after the game, referencing the team’s performance against Arizona State Thursday. “As angry as I was that night, I’m as proud tonight. Make no mistake, we beat a really good basketball team. Maybe Arizona was due for a letdown, I don’t know, but I think we had a lot to do with that. Our energy level on offense and on defense was off-the-charts good.”
CU secured its third win over an AP top-two team in program history. It was 2-33 against such teams prior to the evening.
But Colorado executed Boyle’s and his staff’s gameplan to perfection, particularly in the second half. CU mixed defensive coverages to counter Arizona’s litany of lineup styles. The Buffs opened the game switching everything, but Arizona’s roll-heavy bigs caught smaller defenders in mismatches and got the Buffs into foul trouble. They swapped screen coverages late in the first and affected that portion of the Wildcat game.
Offensively, they hammered Arizona right at the Wildcats’ strength. “We wanted to attack the paint,” Boyle said, and CU certainly did that. It outscored Arizona 54-26 inside and out-rebounded the Wildcats 35-33. Five different Buffs scored in double-figures. Da Silva led the way with 19.
At the crux of what they wanted to do was force indecision in that no man’s land area for the screen defender in drop coverage. Does Christian Koloko, UA’s rim protector, take the ball-handler coming off the screen, or play his man on the roll. “We wanted that ball to get deep in the paint and then make good decisions with it, and our guards did a good job of that tonight,” Boyle said.
Only 10 turnovers. A 48% clip from the field. A 13-for-15 showing at the foul line. It was a strong offensive showing for Colorado against one of the country’s best efficiency defenses.
CU frustrated Arizona on the other end, too, holding one of the best efficiency offenses in basketball to 39% shooting from the floor. Mathurin was 3-for-11. Azuolas Tubelis was 4-for-10. The usual difference-makers were off.
Colorado took advantage.
“It’s hard to write a script better than this,” Boyle said.
And its main character: Battey.
He received a standing ovation before the game, a beloved senior recognized for five years of all-in investment into the University of Colorado and the CU athletic department. Battey let his emotions shine through pregame. “I was a mess,” he said.
Former teammates recorded a video message to him that was played during Senior Night festivities. “I don’t even know what to say, honestly,” he said when asked about the emotions of everything after. “It’s just gratifying, humbling. Oh, I’m happy. I’m so happy.”
That smile remained, almost like it was involuntary.
“Evan and I share a trait in that we’re very emotional,” Boyle said. “There were tears when he was introduced. There were tears in the locker room. He means everything to me because he’s such a special, unique human being. Forget basketball, there’s been a lot of good players come and go through this program through the years, but there’s nobody who’s done as much for our athletic department … and the things he’s tried to give back to the university.
“He’s the mayor. Everybody knows him, everybody loves him. You see him get up on the scorer’s table tonight and address the crowd and proclaim that he wants to be the next head coach at the University of Colorado someday. How many kids do that? He loves this place.”
And CU loved him.
“I don’t really know why this school shows me the type of love they do,” he said. “I feel like they recognize me for doing things everybody should do—having school pride, treating people the right way, all that, having character. If I can be an example, though, and inspire the next generation of Buffs or the next generation of kids… I’m at a loss for words honestly.”
The moment was loud enough. When the final buzzer sounded and the crowd at CUEC poured onto the court, Battey just took it all in. Colorado was down five at the halftime break. This wasn’t some wire-to-wire dream of an ending, it was… well, a stampede.
Colorado outscored Arizona 47-26 over the final 20 minutes. For weeks, it has been Arizona running opponents off the court in the second half. This time, it was Colorado turning the tables.
A triple to put the visitors up four with 16:22 to play was met with seven straight CU points, kicked off by a Battey triple.
An Arizona dunk was met with a pair of CU layups.
A bucket was matched with three. Two quick scores from Arizona were answered by nine straight points from Colorado. Arizona simply couldn’t string together stops. It was resolved to trading buckets.
“It’s about progression, not about perfection,” Battey told his teammates in the locker room at halftime. “I said, ‘Let’s show some growth and show some maturity and how far we’ve come.'”
It was Colorado’s night.
Now, someone find the game ball. That belongs to Battey.