The Colorado Buffaloes may not have yet figured out how to play without Spencer Dinwiddie's skills and leadership.
But they have managed to replace his swagger, it appears.
After the Wildcats beat CU 69-57, Buffs forward Xavier Johnson said "we have better players than them, I think," and said they proved they can beat the No. 1 team in the country after holding UA to only two offensive rebounds in the second half.
In fact, Johnson said the CU-UA game in Boulder on Feb. 22 will be a "20-point blowout" in the Buffs' favor.
"I don't like Arizona and they don't like me," said Johnson, who had 16 of his game-high 21 points in the second half. "I'm aggressive every game but there's something about them that just sparks my engine. Half of them went to my school and half of them went to my rival school so we're all friends. The competitiveness I have brings out the fire in me when we play them."
Johnson played for Mater Dei High School, where UA signee Stanley Johnson is now starring. The Wildcats have only one current player from Mater Dei, walk-on forward Drew Mellon, though Gabe York did play for one of Mater Dei's rivals, Orange Lutheran.
While he wasn't happy about UA's uninspired rebounding, or the fact that Johnson hit 3 of 4 three-pointers in the second half, UA coach Sean Miller was happy about this: Another school record, this time the tie for most consecutive wins over college teams.
"It’s awesome," Miller said, when asked about the record. "Never one day have any of us walked into McKale Center and said it’s not good to be No. 1 or taken it for granted. It’s a fantastic feeling. If you are No. 1, embrace it. ... We're not at the finish line. We know that. Where we are in late January may be a far different place than late February if we don’t continue to win and continue to get better.
"While, we’re No. 1, it’s our responsibility to make sure that we’re doing everything on our part to stay No. 1 and continue to get better. That’s why we talked a little bit tonight about the second half, being tied on the glass and giving Xavier Johnson a couple of open threes. Not in an alarming way but keeping in mind what makes us good and let’s not get away from that."
"We have a very mature team and I don’t know if I can remember any day where this team has come in and not be ready to practice or not be ready to play the game. If we lose, we’re going to lose because the other team is really good."
Miller said he specifically mentioned the 19-game record at the end of his talk with the team but that it was in the context of other goals.
"We touched a little bit on it at the end," Miller said. "The mindset right now is we’ve got a chance to get a home sweep and we’re in a battle to compete for a conference championship, as we were last year, and we all know we missed it by a game (UA finished in a three-way tie for second) and that has all motivated our team to not finish second.
"We'll try to be first, if we don’t make it, we’re not going to have any regrets in how we’re approaching it, as opposed to dealing with the volume of wins. We need to focus on trying to beat Utah and then feeling good about beating Colorado and Utah."
UA was 3 for 15 from three-point range and 8 of 14 from the free-throw line but balanced those issues out partly by turning the ball over only seven times.
"We're going to have games where we don't make threes. We can still win. We’ve proven that," Miller said. "In addition to that, we missed the front ends of one-and-ones down the stretch, went 8 for 14 from the line, 3 for 15 from three so something must have worked to your advantage, and seven turnovers is great. To play a conference game and only have seven turnovers is great. We did shoot over 50 percent from the field (49.2) in addition to that."
Miller said Nick Johnson is on a similar career path to Solomon Hill, who took in Thursday's game during the Pacers' Western road swing.
"I told him that Nick reminds me a lot of the kind of career path than Solomon had," Miller said. "He's professional. He works hard. He's very similar to Solomon in that everybody wasn’t bestowing these accolades on him. He earned it with his performance by being a great leader and all of his hard work and Nick making the 25-man cut (for the Wooden Award midseason list) was earned through a lot of incredible performances."
Brandon Ashley had seven points during UA's 18-4 run at the beginning of the game. He finished with 15 on 6-for-7 shooting, leaving Miller wanting more.
"Brandon's just more adept across the board," Miller said. "He got off to a great start tonight. I wish there were more field-goal attempts by him. We talk to him a lot about being aggressive, being physical and using his ability to drive the ball and post up, because our team is really at its best offensively when he’s involved. Everybody knows that, including him. Sometimes we do it better than others but from an offensive perspective, he did a great job."
Utah lost a close one at ASU on Thursday, but the Utes beat UCLA last week and appear to be vastly improved this season with coach Larry Krystkowiak's revamped roster.
The Utes will be in town for a Sunday evening game at McKale.
"I can’t think of a coach and a program who’s improved more than Utah has over the last two seasons," Miller said. "That right there should say a lot about the respect that we have for them and the four times that we played Utah, each of the four games have been very hard fought. I fully expect Sunday to be the same."
Also in the Pac-12 Thursday, Washington shot 69.6 percent in the second half to hand Oregon its fifth straight loss.
And UCLA beat Stanford for the ninth straight time in Los Angeles.
Here's the official box score.