“Rivals” Arizona and Colorado to battle again in Pac-12 Tournamentby Javier Morales on Mar. 13, 2013, under Sports
LAS VEGAS — The word “rivalry” was mentioned when Colorado coach Tad Boyle was asked about tomorrow’s Pac-12 Tournament quarterfinal game with Arizona.
Reporter: “I was curious your thoughts on this rivalry with Arizona? … It seemed there was a lot of emotion there last month in Boulder (when Colorado beat Arizona 71-58).”
Rivalry? Colorado is not UCLA or ASU or as hated/feared as those Stanford teams with Todd Lichti and Brevin Knight. We’re only two years into Colorado’s existence in the Pac-12.
Competitive games have taken place between the programs, including last year’s Pac-12 Tournament championship game, won by the Buffaloes 53-51, effectively knocking the Wildcats out of the NCAA tournament. The Sabatino Chen Affair — did he get the shot off on time? — happened Jan. 3 at McKale Center with the Wildcats escaping with a 92-83 overtime victory.
But, a rivalry? Arizona followers now know how UCLA must have felt when the Wildcats beat the Bruins in Pauley Pavilion in 1986 to claim their first Pac-10 title. The UA wanted a rivalry with UCLA to help boost its stature. A rivalry indeed materialized, one of the best in college basketball. Colorado, which has not been to the Final Four since 1955, is in the same situation.
“Absolutely,” Boyle said in response to the “rivalry” between Colorado and Arizona. “I think there is a lot of mutual respect between the programs, and I respect their coach (Sean Miller) and their coaching staff. I respect their players and their program, what it means to college basketball in the Pac‑12.
“I think what we did last year, and this year … I think we’ve earned some respect as well. So I look for a heck of a game.”
Will the Arizona-Colorado rivalry evolve into one of the top 100 rivalries in sports? That’s what BleacherReport.com rates the Arizona-UCLA basketball rivalry. It rates the rivalry No. 84 ahead of the Phil Mickelson-Tiger Woods rivalry (No. 86) and Pittsburgh Penguins-Philadelphia Flyers rivalry (No. 87).
Colorado is on the right track to make it happen, winning the Pac-12 Tournament title in its first year in the league. The Buffaloes are 3-2 against Miller’s Wildcats since joining the Pac-12 last year. Colorado holds a 10-6 advantage overall against Arizona but 12 of those games were before 1975.
The Buffaloes are not shy about taking their best shot against Arizona, on the court and in the interview room.
“Pretty much they’re a bigger team than us. We all know this,” said Colorado freshman guard Xavier Johnson, who scored a career-high 19 points in the victory over Arizona in Boulder on Feb. 14. “Talent‑wise, I think we match up pretty good with them. They have Solomon Hill, great player, but we have André Roberson, who is just as good.
“So I don’t see any problem with us handling them.”
That’s the equivalent of Anthony Cook as a sophomore at Arizona in 1986, telling reporters that the Wildcats did not lose sleep over facing the Bruins. Cook would have never said such a thing. This is a different generation, a time when athletes believe in instant gratification.
Colorado and its followers also want something to hold on to with their move to the Pac-12 from the Big 12. The Buffaloes did not have a rival in the Big 12, although they claim their competitive football games with Nebraska in the 1980s constituted a rivalry.
Try telling Cornhusker fans that Colorado was as much of a football rival as Oklahoma and Texas.
Colorado State is more of a rival because Colorado shares the state with the Rams. The Pac-12 forced Utah on Colorado to be a rival when the schools merged with the Pac-12.
The competition Colorado has provided the conference is welcomed by the Pac-12 coaches. Boyle’s team benefits the Pac-12 during a time when Stanford is down and Washington is not as competitive as the Brandon Roy years. The question to ask is will Colorado have the staying power?
Arizona has seen programs rise such as Washington State under Kelvin Sampson and Tony Bennett but then fall because of a coaching move. Tim Floyd had USC rolling but the Trojans now are only a shadow of his teams. Ernie Kent had Oregon in the upper echelon of the league only to be eventually fired by his alma mater.
It does more good than harm to have Colorado believing its equal in stature to Arizona. Let’s see if we are calling these programs rivals in five years.
WILDABOUTAZCATS.net publisher and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. Follow his reports on the Pac-12 Tournament from Las Vegas.