TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) — Arizona opened the game by getting the ball down low to Azuolas Tubelis for a jump hook.
Kerr Kriisa followed with two bad passes, then Tubelis two of his own — not the start coach Tommy Lloyd had in mind for a conference home game.
The Wildcats shook it off and turned to their biggest strength: getting the ball into the paint.
Oumar Ballo had 18 points and 16 rebounds, Cedric Henderson Jr. added 15 points and No. 8 Arizona dominated inside to beat Colorado 78-68 on Saturday night.
“We obviously want to go inside and then defensively we want to protect the paint,” Lloyd said. “Nothing more complicated than that.”
The rash of opening turnovers put the Wildcats (24-4, 13-4 Pac-12) into an early 12-point hole. Arizona righted itself quickly with a big run and slogged through a slowed-down second half by dominating the paint at both ends.
Henderson and Ballo picked up the slack with leading scorer Tubelis in foul trouble, combining to hit 14 of 21 shots. Those two helped Arizona outscore Colorado 40-24 in the paint.
“That’s why they’re a top-10 team — they’ve got everything,” said Colorado’s Luke O’Brien, who had nine points and nine rebounds.
The Buffaloes (15-13, 7-10) used a closing 17-3 run to upend Arizona State 67-59 on Thursday night, but a big hole was too much to overcome in one of the nation’s toughest road environments.
Tristan da Silva had 18 points for Colorado, which shot 38%.
“We got good looks in the first half and we got good looks in the second,” Colorado coach Tad Boyle said. “At some point, you have to make your open shots and we didn’t do that consistently.”
Arizona bounced back from a loss to Stanford by shooting 56% from the floor in an 88-62 thumping of Utah on Thursday night.
The Wildcats stumbled out of the gate against Colorado.
Arizona made sloppy passes for turnovers on four of its first five possessions while the Buffaloes ran their offense crisply. Colorado made seven of its first 11 shots to take an early 12-point lead.
“We weren’t locked in to start the game, clearly,” Henderson said.
The Wildcats shook off the cobwebs after that, upping their play at both ends of the floor.
Arizona went on a 12-0 run to tie it up and held Colorado without a field goal for 3 1/2 minutes to build a 41-30 lead. The Wildcats hit 17 of 32 shots and didn’t have a turnover the final 15 1/2 minutes of the first half to lead 46-34.
Colorado quickly cut the lead to seven to start the second half, but went nearly 5 1/2 minutes without hitting a shot as Arizona extended it to 54-41.
The Buffaloes slowed down Arizona will full-court pressure and zone in the half-court, but seemed to have defensive breakdowns at crucial moments — like a dunk by Henderson at the shot clock buzzer.
“We just try to change it up on them, but we broke down and couldn’t get couldn’t get stops when we needed to get stops,” Boyle said.
Tubelis struggled with foul trouble the previous two games, exacerbated by a technical foul for kicking the ball into the stands against Utah.
The Lithuanian big man made it three straight foul-trouble games, sitting the rest of the half after picking up his second foul nine minutes into the game. Tubelis finished with 13 points in 22 minutes.
“Maybe it’s a little bit bad luck and a little bit self inflicted wounds by him,” Lloyd said. “He’s got to be smart and he’s got to play better. He’s had an amazing year.”
Colorado: The Buffaloes couldn’t have gotten off to a much better start in what’s been a house of horrors for them. Colorado managed to bog down Arizona’s offense in the second half, but struggled offensively to remain winless (0-11) at McKale Center since joining the Pac-12 in 2011-12.
Arizona: Turnovers have been a problem for the Wildcats at times this season, but most of the time they’ve been able to overcome it. They did it again Saturday night behind a stifling defense that’s gotten better as the season has progressed.
Colorado: Hosts Southern California on Thursday.
Arizona: hosts rival Arizona State next Saturday.
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