TUCSON, Arizona — Arizona opened the game backing off instead crowding, hands down on shooters, not up. Flat footed and flailing is not how the Wildcats typically play defense and their coach let them know about it during an early timeout.
Going down the bench, Adia Barnes let each player know what they were doing wrong.
Shaina Pellington scored 28 points, Cate Reese added 23 and No. 10 Arizona rallied from a shaky start with three quarters of shutdown defense to beat No. 22 Colorado 75-56 on Sunday.
“I went down the line,” Barnes said. “I usually don’t have to do that with this team, but today they needed it.”
The Wildcats (14-2, 4-2 Pac-12) struggled against Colorado’s defensive pressure early, scoring seven points in the first quarter while falling into a 12-point hole.
Arizona got back in it with defense, scoring 19 points off Colorado’s 16 turnovers. The Wildcats shot 54% despite the slow start and blew open a close game with a 21-2 run spanning the third and fourth quarters.
“We just got off to a flat start,” Reese said. “We weren’t ready, then we got back to playing Arizona defense.”
The Buffaloes (13-4, 2-3) got off to a great start, but allowed Arizona’s defensive pressure to speed them up in their fourth straight loss.
Mya Hollingshed and Tameiya Sadler led Colorado with 11 points each.
“The tempo was different,” Colorado coach JR Payne said. “We actually ran our offense well in the first half with few disruptions, but once they turned it up in the backcourt, we got discombobulate in the frontcourt.”
The Buffaloes created all kinds of havoc with their defense against Arizona State on Friday, forcing 29 turnovers and closing regulation with a 10-2 run to force overtime. It still wasn’t enough. The Sun Devils pulled it out 57-52 in overtime to win their 14th straight in the series.
Colorado’s active-hands defense gave Arizona plenty of problems early. The Wildcats had a hard time getting good looks at the basket and struggled getting anything to fall, shooting 3 of 11 while going scoreless over the final 4:50 of the first quarter.
Colorado didn’t shoot a whole lot better — 5 for 15 — but used a 15-3 run spanning into the second quarter to go up 19-7.
“They made us uncomfortable,” Barnes said. “They punched us in the face and we never want that at home. If that happened at Colorado, we would have been down 30 at halftime and lost the game.”
Arizona got back in it with some defensive flex of its own.
Sparked by Barnes’ timeout with less than a minute left in the first quarter, the Wildcats started jumping passing lanes and pressing after made baskets. Arizona forced Colorado into seven second-quarter turnovers to set up easy baskets in transition, hitting 8 of 15 to tie the game at 29-all by halftime.
The trend continued in the third quarter. Colorado struggled against Arizona’s defensive pressure and the Wildcats kept hitting shots, going 9 for 14 to build a 51-43 lead.
Arizona broke the game open to start the fourth quarter, forcing three quick turnovers to score the first 12 points and stretch the lead to 63-43.
“Their press did a good job of disrupting us in the half court,” Payne said. “Once we got in the half court, we were discombobulated and that hurt our flow.”
Colorado spoiled a strong start by getting sped up offensively by the Wildcats, leading to a lopsided loss in a game that was close deep into the third quarter.
Arizona needed some time to get going. Once the Wildcats revved up their defense, the Buffaloes had no answer.
FREE THROW DESCREPANCY
Arizona has a big, physical front line, but doesn’t always take advantage in terms of drawing fouls.
The Wildcats were limited to 10 free throws in a loss to Oregon last week and took 11 against Colorado while the Buffaloes had 24.
“We’re aggressive, but I think sometimes we go away from the physicality and that’s a little bit on us,” Reese said. “We just need to be more aggressive, drive the lane because we really haven’t been getting that many free throws.”
The good news: Arizona made 9 of its 11 attempts.
Colorado: Plays at Utah on Friday.
Arizona: Plays at California Friday.