Akinjo scores 22, Arizona beats Colorado 88-74
TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) James Akinjo dribbled the ball across half court, took a few steps and hit a running 3-pointer at the halftime buzzer.
It was that kind of night for Akinjo and for Arizona in what may have been its best game of the season.
Akinjo had 22 points, eight assists and made five 3-pointers, lifting the Wildcats to an 88-74 win over Colorado on Monday night.
"We had an energy about us on offense," Arizona coach Sean Miller said. "We executed, we made shots. We were clicking, we were efficient, we got contributions from a lot of players."
Arizona (7-1, 2-0 Pac-12) showed no signs for rust following a six-day layoff, shooting 53% while making 8 of 17 from the 3-point arc. Jemarl Baker added 14 points to help the Wildcats improve to 10-0 all-time against Colorado at McKale Center.
Akinjo opened the season shooting 44% from the 3-point arc, but had gone 3 for 18 the previous four games. The transfer from Georgetown found the range against Colorado, making his fifth straight at the halftime buzzer and finishing 5 for 7.
"We believe in James a lot," said Arizona guard Terrell Brown, Jr., who had 12 points and seven assists. "He's he engine to our team, the head of the snake, so we don't really harp on the past games because he's always prepared to play."
Colorado (6-2, 0-1) shot well in the first half to keep Arizona within reach, but went cold during a key stretch in the second half and had trouble defensively all night to lose its twice-delayed conference opener. Evan Battey had 18 points despite foul trouble to lead the Buffaloes.
Colorado also lost leading scorer McKinley Wright IV to a right ankle injury in the final minute.
"We may have had some good individual performances, but as a team I didn't feel like we really got things going, especially in the second half," Colorado coach Tad Boyle said.
The Buffaloes and Wildcats were originally scheduled to play on Dec. 2, but the game was postponed due to COVID-19 issues in Colorado's program.
Colorado had two more games canceled before winning four straight, the latest a 74-64 victory over Grand Canyon three days before Christmas.
Arizona lost its Pac-12 opener at Stanford 78-75 and had a hard time shaking Montana in its final nonconference game before winning 70-64 on Dec. 22.
The layoffs didn't seem to cause any rust in the rescheduled game.
Colorado and Arizona traded made baskets throughout the first half, including a combined 12 from the 3-point arc.
The 6-foot-8, 269-pound Battey bulled his way through the Wildcats for 14 first-half points.
Akinjo had 13 by halftime, including a running 3 at the buzzer to put Arizona up 50-44.
Battey went to the bench with his third foul 2 1/2 minutes into second half and the Wildcats took advantage, making five straight shots to go up 63-52.
Battey returned midway through the second half and immediately picked up his fourth foul. The Buffaloes continued to clang shots as Arizona pushed the lead to 13.
Colorado put itself in position to end its long winless streak at McKale Center. The Buffaloes couldn't pull it off, hurt by Battey's foul trouble, shaky defense and a stretch of poor second-half shooting.
Arizona has shown its offensive diversity this season with multiple players taking the offensive lead. Akinjo was the latest, making 5 of 11 shots while maintaining his distributor's role.
Arizona's Christian Koloko wasn't a factor in Arizona's win against Montana, limited to two points and one rebound. The sophomore big man provided an immediate lift against Colorado off the bench, playing aggressively and effectively.
Koloko finished with 10 points and eight rebounds in 15 minutes while providing a defensive presence in the lane in what may be his best game since arriving at Arizona.
"Confidence is big for Christian," Miller said. "He came back, had two really good days of practice, took a break over the holidays and had his best game of the season against a very good team."
Arizona used its defense to spark early offense, getting out in transition to score on layups and 3-pointers before the Buffaloes could get set. The Wildcats finished with an 18-0 advantage in fast-break points and scored 16 points off Colorado's 13 turnovers.
"We knew in transition they're a very potent offensive team, but when you're outscored 18-0, that means you're not running to the other end," Boyle said. "I thought we got tired."
Colorado plays at USC on Thursday.
Arizona plays at Washington Thursday.
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Updated December 29, 2020