K.J. Simpson's heroics not enough as CU falls at No. 6 Arizona, 76-55
The 2021-22 campaign will not feature Colorado’s first-ever victory at the McKale Center in Tucson, as despite some heroics by true freshman guard K.J. Simpson, the rest of his teammates failed to make much of an offensive impression and the Buffs fell to No. 6 Arizona, 76-55.
After trailing by just four at halftime, CU (11-4, 3-2 Pac-12) was dominated down the stretch of the second half by the Wildcats.
Simpson, a former four-star recruit that signed with Arizona’s Class of 2021, only to be released from his NLI following the firing of Sean Miller, after which point he committed to and signed with CU last April, was electric in the first half.
Colorado began the first half in front of a full house of Wildcats fans on a pretty poor note overall, as turnovers piled up and lackluster transitional defense allowed multiple easy U of A put-ins.
Exacerbating things further was CU’s own inability to answer offensively.
At the 8:48 mark of the first half, the Buffaloes were trailing, 22-8, having shot just 3-of-14 (21%) from the floor.
In desperate need of some momentum to close out the half, the Buffs got just that, largely thanks to the efforts of Simpson.
After a pair of free throws made by sophomore Luke O’Brien, Simpson sparked Colorado by scoring six straight points, followed by an assist on an Evan Battey layup that got the Buffs well within striking distance of the Wildcats.
By that point, CU trailed, 27-21, with 3:41 left before halftime.
Simpson went on to hit a three-pointer and sink a pair of free throws, as the Buffs ended the first half on an 18-7 run over nearly the last seven minutes.
As both teams headed to their respective locker rooms, Simpson had already scored a career-high 14 points, including a perfect 5-of-5 from the charity stripe, on 4-of-7 shooting.
But as the second half progressed, things got out of hand fairly quickly, putting an exciting rally to end the first half firmly in the rearview mirror.
By the 16:30 mark, Colorado’s deficit had increased to 10, as the Buffs trailed, 42-32.
From there, the Buffaloes failed to get within double digits of the Wildcats, who ran away with things as CU’s offensive woes became more amplified.
The Buffs were outscored by Arizona, 44-27, in the second half, as the Wildcats dominated in nearly every way imaginable, from rebounding to transitional play and the basic ability to knock down shots.
On the night, Colorado shot just 33% from the floor, including a measly 4-of-20 from long range. Depressingly enough for CU fans, the Buffs’ numbers in the second half (36%) actually improved from what the team managed in the opening 20 minutes.
Simpson, by far the only Buffalo to make any sort of splash offensively in the game, was limited to just three points in the final half.
Battey was next with nine points, but personified the team’s shooting struggles, going 3-of-10 from the floor.
Aside from Battey, the rest of Colorado starters were all but invisible for the entirety of the game.
Keeshawn Barthelemy, Jabari Walker, Elijah Parquet and Tristan da Silva combined to go 8-of-29 (28%) with 17 points, tying the point total that Simpson managed himself.
For the Buffs, Thursday brings them to 0-for-3 on the year against ranked opponents, following losses earlier this season to UCLA and Tennessee.
Colorado heads to Tempe this upcoming Saturday, Jan. 15, for a game against Arizona State. Tipoff is at 8 p.m. MST on ESPN 2.