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No. 1 Arizona dismisses Colorado, but Buffs already eager for the rematch

Nick Johnson soars for two of his team-high 18 points. Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Nick Johnson soars for two of his team-high 18 points. Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

In terms of recent postgame exclamations, Colorado’s Xavier Johnson didn’t even come close to pulling a half-Sherman.

But the sophomore forward gave the top-ranked Arizona Wildcats something to chew on after their 69-57 victory at McKale Center, a game that was rarely as close as the final score indicated.

“We were playing the No. 1 team in the nation, but they weren’t that good,” Johnson said. “There’s no excuse for not getting the win.”

Hmmm. OK. The next meeting — in Boulder on Feb. 22 — should be fun.

“That’ll be a 20-point blowout,” Johnson predicted.

Can we get that in big letters for a banner in the UA locker room?

The Arizona-Colorado rivalry quickly has become one of the better ones in the Pac-12 since the Buffs joined the league for the 2011-12 season, although there was little to get tense about Thursday night, with the Buffs playing their third full game since star point guard Spencer Dinwiddie went down with an ACL tear.

Even without Dinwiddie, Johnson said, “We have better players than them.”

Arizona started fast — leading 9-0 and 18-4 — and was up by 15 at halftime. The Wildcats made their first six shots of the second half and stretched their advantage to 51-31 with 15:13 left when Aaron Gordon threw down a reverse dunk, fulfilling his requirement of at least one of those per game.

Colorado, fueled by Johnson, whittled the lead to 11 points late in the game, but it wasn’t a case of Arizona coach Sean Miller needing to loosen his tie because of all the anxiety.

Not that good?

Arizona was good enough.

The Cats tied the school’s modern-day record of 19 consecutive victories — held by the 1992-93 and 1997-98 teams — and played one of their best halves of basketball before a middling second half.

Miller wasn’t so much concerned about that — no need to sound the alarms for being outscored after halftime — but he did not like that Colorado tied his team in rebounding with 32. Arizona has not been out-rebounded this season, although USC also was equal on the glass.

“That’s such an important strength of ours,” Miller said of rebounding.

“We are going to have games that we go 3 of 15 from three. But we can’t have games where teams begin to rebound with us, because that’s our strength. …

“If you ever want to get scared as an Arizona fan, when you see us not out-rebound our opponent, that’s a sign of a lot of bad things that are coming our way. Some of it was that Colorado is a very good offensive rebounding team, but we have to do better rebounding.

“If we got our (players’) attention about anything after this game, it was that.”

Well, that, and he wasn’t thrilled that Johnson made 4 of 5 3-point attempts en route to a season-high 21 points. The Cats had talked about not giving him good looks from behind the arc.

If Johnson wants to squawk, it should be about this: He’s made 11 of 15 3-point shots in four games against Arizona. He’s 30 of 85 against everyone else.

“I don’t like Arizona and they don’t like me,” said Johnson, who is from Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana, Calif.

“I need to do that every game, but Arizona just sparks my engine. I grew up with pretty much all of them. Half of them went to my school, half of them went to my rival schools. We’re all friends and the competitiveness I have brings out the fire in me.”

Arizona, meanwhile, marches on. Nick Johnson had 18 points to lead Arizona, which shot 49.2 percent from the field despite that 3-of-15 accuracy from 3-point range. Brandon Ashley scored 15 points on 6-of-7 shooting. Miller loved that the Cats had more steals (eight) than turnovers (seven).

Not that good?

Good enough.

“The one thing we want to guard against is almost to have to apologize for winning,” Miller said. “Sometimes you’re not going to play as well. We know that. But we’re trying to win every game and do the best we can. Period. …

“We have a very mature team and I don’t know if I can remember any day when this team has come in and not been ready to practice or ready to play the game. If we lose, we’re going to lose because the other team is really good.”

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