The lasting image from last season’s Pac-12 championship game in basketball is Colorado’s Carlon Brown storming down the line in the final minute and then soaring for a one-handed dunk against Arizona.
That didn’t completely shut the door on the Wildcats, but the hole was deep and there would be no miracle finish in Los Angeles. UA managed only an off-balance 3-pointer from Kyle Fogg at the buzzer, losing 53-51 in what essentially was an NCAA Tournament play-in game.
“It was hard watching from the bench in those last few seconds and what happened at the end of the game,” said Arizona senior guard Kevin Parrom, who was out with a foot injury.
“I want to play harder because I didn’t get a chance to play last year in the Pac-12 championship game. I’m going to have a little chip on my shoulder. Everyone is going to have a chip on their shoulders Thursday because of what they did last year.”
After beating Arizona in the league title game, Colorado went on to upset sixth-seeded UNLV in the first round of the NCAAs. Arizona limped home and lost in the first round of the NIT to Bucknell.
But that’s last season. Arizona is way different — bigger, deeper, much more cohesive. The Cats are the favorites to win the Pac-12.
Brown is gone at Colorado, but the Buffs are very good again. They are 10-2, with the losses coming at a still-undefeated Wyoming team and (by 36 points) at Kansas.
“I think they have three of the most talented players in our conference,” said Arizona coach Sean Miller.
Let’s take a look:
Forward Andre Roberson: The springy 6-7 junior is averaging 12.1 points and 12.1 rebounds per game. Miller calls him “one of the most versatile and great players we have in our conference.”
He’s clever around the basket and is a matchup nightmare as an undersized power forward or when he plays some minutes at small forward. He’ll shoot the occasional 3-pointer. Arizona can surround him with size this season, or go smaller with Solomon Hill handling the defensive assignment.
“He’s a tough matchup no matter how you deal with him,” Miller said.
Roberson, an All-Pac-12 player a season ago, leads the Buffs in steals (26) and blocks (18).
“A great defender,” Miller said. “He impacts the game on defense as much as he does on offense.”
His weakness: Free-throw shooting.
Point guard Spencer Dinwiddie: He’s averaging 14.4 points per game and is dangerous from distance (20 of 43 3-point attempts) or when he’s using his size advantage to draw fouls.
Dinwiddie, a 6-foot-6 sophomore, is 67 of 87 (77 percent) from the free-throw line.
“Spencer Dinwiddie, in my mind, will one day play in the NBA,” Miller said.
“There aren’t a lot of players his size that can play the point and have the ability to shoot. I would put him in the very upper tier of guards in the country. We have incredible respect for him.”
Guard Askia Booker: The 6-1 sophomore leads the Buffs in scoring at 14.8 points per game and is shooting 38.2 percent from behind the 3-point arc, thriving in a starting role this season.
He averaged 9.1 points last season as a super sub.
“Askia Booker has done nothing but improve from a good freshman campaign,” Miller said. “He’s really aggressive.”
Booker will have something to prove against Arizona after making 2 of 18 shots from the field in three games vs. the Wildcats last season.
Colorado’s fourth double-digit scorer is 6-10 freshman Josh Scott, part of a talented recruiting class. He averages 13.2 points and 5.9 rebounds.
“If you ask, ‘Are they one of the teams that can win the Pac-12 this year?’ … Yes,” Miller said. “We respect them a great deal.”