LAS VEGAS -- The Pac-12 Conference tournament's online stat feed appropriately had fourth-seeded Arizona labeled as the home team Thursday afternoon for its second-round meeting with No. 5 Colorado.
In front of a pro-Arizona crowd of 12,915 that made the MGM Grand Garden Arena feel more like McKale Center, the Wildcats got revenge on the Buffaloes for last season's tournament championship game and won, 79-69.
Nick Johnson scored 18 points to lead Arizona (25-6), which will face top-seeded UCLA (24-8) in the semifinals Friday. Tipoff is scheduled for approximately 6:06 p.m. PT.
The sophomore guard also limited Colorado point guard Spencer Dinwiddie to 4-of-12 shooting despite his team-high 18 points. As a team, the Buffaloes (21-11) had just six assists to 13 turnovers.
Kyle Terada--USA TODAY Sports
Arizona sophomore guard Nick Johnson (13) scored 18 points on 6-of-7 shooting Thursday to help Arizona advance to the Pac-12 tournament semifinals.
"I felt that coach made a good decision to switch me onto Spencer (Dinwiddie)," said Johnson, who made 6 of 7 shots, 4 of 5 free throws and added three assists. "I got to pick the ball up and move a little bit and get going. I think that led to good shots on the offensive end."
Up 11 at the half, the Wildcats continued to shoot the ball well and led by as many as 14 through the first 7 1/2 minutes.
But poor shot selection - a bad habit for most of the year for Arizona - allowed Colorado to pull within seven on Dinwiddie's 3-pointer. But a Kaleb Tarczewski basket and Kevin Parrom 3-pointer - his first points of the game - bumped UA's lead back up to 59-47 with 9:06 to play.
The Buffs shot just 43.1 percent but did not die quietly. CU immediately went on an 8-2 run, and moments later Xavier Johnson's layup cut the deficit to 66-62 with 3:14 remaining.
But Mark Lyons - who connected on just one of his first eight 3-point attempts - converted a wild 3 from the corner closest to the Arizona bench to push the lead back up to seven with 2:03 left.
"Our problem was not getting stops at critical times. The shot that Lyons hit from the corner with one second on the shot clock was the play of the game," CU head coach Tad Boyle said.
Lyons promptly coughed the ball up at the 1:20 mark after Askia Booker answered with his own 3.
Leading by just two after a pair of Andre Roberson free throws, Johnson's jumper with 34 seconds to play and Roberson's offensive foul on the following possession helped Arizona hold on for the victory. Lyons iced the game with a pair of free throws and Johnson provided the exclamation point with a block inside the final 20 seconds.
The Wildcats won despite shooting 9 of 27 from the 3-point line. Meanwhile, UA made 14 of 16 free throws.
But defense, a plea of UA head coach Sean Miller's for the past month, proved to be the difference. In the two wins over the Wildcats this season, the Buffs made 17 3-pointers - but today just five against the league's worst 3-point defense.
"Colorado loves to get into the middle and kick across," Miller said. "So we tried to be even more aggressive on the ball screens and off the ball really worry more about our man and less about the help.
"It's not always that you pitch a shutout defensively as much as how much your effort level can make the other team or other player work to score."
The much anticipated match-up started off at a torrid pace, with the teams combining to make nine of the first 13 shots. Leading 11-8 with under 15 minutes to play in the half, the Wildcats went on a 9-3 run highlighted by dribble-drive attempts that led to a host of open looks to extend the advantage to seven.
Of the first 20 points, Arizona scored seven in transition and took advantage of Colorado's 10 first-half turnovers.
UA cooled off, making just 1 of 10 shots at one point, and Colorado pulled within 25-21 with 4:38 remaining.
But the Buffs missed 7 of 12 free throws in the half and could not capitalize much more.
"I thought our guys responded to some adversity very well, but it just wasn't enough," said Boyle, whose team's attention now turns to a likely at-large bid into the NCAA tournament.
Grant Jerrett, who provided a spark off the bench in the first half including a highlight-reel chase-down block, put UA ahead 31-21 with a 3-pointer at the 3:38 mark. The freshman led the charge early for the reserves, who combined for 18 points in the half and finished with 25 for the game.
Jerrett finished with seven points, and Jordin Mayes and Brandon Ashley added eight apiece.
Solomon Hill struggled in the opening half, but his traditional three-point play in the final seconds gave the 'Cats a 39-28 lead at the break.
"Felt kind of like a home game," said Hill, who finished with 13 points.