Sabatino Chen was nearly the hero against Arizona in January.
Sabatino Chen was nearly the hero against Arizona in January. ( CLIFF GRASSMICK )

It's been 42 days since the Colorado men's basketball team got hosed in Tucson, Ariz.

Some would certainly argue with that characterization of what unfolded Jan. 3 when the Buffs visited the McKale Center and seemed to escape a furious rally from Arizona, ranked No. 3 in the nation at the time, by making a last-second shot to win.

But the officiating crew, which initially called Sabatino Chen's banked-in-3-pointer at the buzzer good, went to the replay monitor and somehow decided the ball had not left his hand in time for the shot to count. It might have been the most controversial finish of the college basketball season because replays shown later, as well as still photographs from people in the stands, seemed to show the ball clearly out of Chen's hands with one-tenth of a second remaining.

Deflated by the decision and overwhelmed by the moment, the Buffs fell apart in overtime and lost. Like hungry dogs chained just out of reach of a piece of meat, they have been waiting for the Wildcats to visit the Coors Events Center to take their revenge.

Shortly after the loss, CU fans began hashtagging posts on Twitter with #ValentinesDayMassacre. Tickets to the game are in short supply. Former Buff Nate Tomlinson used his Twitter account to ask for help flying in for the game -- from Australia.

The Buffs and coach Tad Boyle insist they put the loss at Arizona behind them the day after it happened, but social media tells another story. The Buffs are coming off a two-game sweep of Oregon and Oregon State on the road, prompting junior forward Andre Roberson to tweet "Great road trip! Now time for AZ payback!"


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With a win Thursday night, the Buffs (16-7, 6-5) can climb into contention for the Pac-12 regular season title, a year after winning the conference tournament title. And the schedule is favorable with four of the final six games at home.

Arizona coach Sean Miller is bringing his ninth-ranked team into an environment that should be among the most spirited in the history of the Coors Events Center. It's safe to say there won't be a more rowdy environment in college basketball Thursday, at least until the game starts. At that point it will be up to the Buffs to sustain the energy from the crowd.

Arizona expected to be able to feed off its crowd the last time these teams met, but the Buffs played extremely well to start the game and eventually established a 17-point lead. It was only in the final minutes of the game and overtime that the Wildcats re-established their home-court edge. That and the controversial call by officials helped them win.

"I was going to be good with either call" Miller said Jan. 3 in his postgame press conference. "Obviously, I wanted to win. Colorado outplayed us for most of the game. Sometimes it goes your way and sometimes it doesn't. Because it banked in and knowing they didn't call it, I felt like the basketball Gods weigh in on something like that."

Arizona is the only team in the Pac-12 Conference with 20 wins so far (20-3) and the Wildcats are tied for first-place in the league with Oregon and UCLA. The Wildcats have been a good road team going 6-1 in hostile environments this season, but they are coming off a loss to California at home.

CU has been inconsistent since the first meeting. It hasn't won more than three games in a row in conference play. The Buffs seemed to be rolling two weeks ago after beating Stanford and Cal at home, but then they went on the road and lost at Utah before sweeping the Oregon teams. The Buffs are always tough at home and should be even more difficult to beat Thursday night considering the story lines involved.

CU wasted the best game of Chen's career in the last meeting. It was the first time this season he started a game on the bench, with freshman Xavier Johnson taking his place in the lineup. Chen has, for the most part, remained in the sixth-man role since scoring 15 points against the Wildcats. Perhaps he can reprise that performance here in Boulder.

"I think Sabatino has had some very good performances since then and that was kind of a breakout game for him in terms of shooting the ball. When you've got a guy who has not been a big scorer or a good shooter and you've seen them in practice show those capabilities, you're waiting for that game where they break out and they make some shots against a quality opponent. And for Sabatino it was against Arizona."

Win or lose, Boyle will likely be happy to get past this point on the schedule. He's well aware of how highly anticipated this game has been both inside and outside the CU locker room. Boyle was asked this week about how his team handled the adversity of losing the first game and if it affected his team early in conference play.

"I think it's over-played," he said. "Obviously if you look at our record after that game, everybody is going to point to the fact that we had a hangover because we started the league 1-4 and we lost to Arizona State after the Arizona game and we came home and beat USC and lost to UCLA. So we start out 1-4 and everybody points to the Arizona loss and the hangover. Whether it was or wasn't -- I don't think it was -- but whether it was or wasn't doesn't matter. What matters is we have put it behind us. We have rebounded from it. We've moved forward and we're playing pretty well right now."

Follow Kyle on Twitter: @KyleRingo

CU men's hoops preview

THURSDAY: The No. 9 Arizona Wildcats (20-3, 8-3) visit the Colorado Buffaloes (16-7, 6-5) at 8:05 p.m. at Coors Events Center.

BROADCAST: Television on the Pac-12 Network with Ted Robinson (play-by-play) and Dan Belluomini (analyst). Radio on KOA (850 AM) with Mark Johnson (play-by-play) and Chad Brown (analyst). Follow on Twitter: @RyanThorburn.

CU STORY LINES: The Buffs and their fans have been looking forward to this game since Jan. 3 when Sabatino Chen's apparent game-winning shot at the buzzer was nullified by officials who originally ruled it good. Replays appeared to show officials made the wrong call. Arizona won in overtime. ... CU is 2-2 against ranked opponents this season, including the loss to the Wildcats. ... The Buffs are 9-1 at home this season and 41-5 at home under coach Tad Boyle. ...Andre Roberson needs seven rebounds to become CU's second-leading rebounder in history. He has 965 rebounds trailing Cliff Meely, who pulled down 971 and Stephane Pelle who grabbed 1,054. Roberson is the Pac-12's leading rebounder and is second nationally.

ARIZONA STORY LINES: The Wildcats overcame a 17-point deficit in the first meeting this season and dominated the overtime after the controversy at the end of regulation. ... Guard Mark Lyons was instrumental in beating the Buffs the first time around and is playing some of his best basketball of the season of late. He averaged 21 points, four rebounds and five assists in two games last week. ... The Wildcats are 15-1 when leading at halftime this season and 70-10 when holding a halftime lead under coach Sean Miller. ... Arizona outrebounded the Buffs 44-33 in the first meeting

KEY STAT: Arizona leads the Pac-12 with seven made 3-pointers per game and is second in shooting percentage behind the arc at. 363. CU is second in the conference in 3-point defense, allowing opponents to shoot .325 from deep.

COACHES: Boyle is 64-33 in his third season at CU. Sean Miller is 89-38 in his fourth season at Arizona.

PROBABLE STARTERS: Colorado -- F Andre Roberson, 6-7, So., 10.6 ppg, 11.7 rpg; F Josh Scott, 6-10, Fr., 12.1 ppg, 5.2 rpg; G Spencer Dinwiddie, 6-6, So., 14.8 ppg, 2.8 apg; G Askia Booker, 6-1, So., 13.6 ppg, 2.4 apg; G Xavier Johnson, 6-6, Fr., 7.7 ppg, 4.0 rpg. Arizona -- C Kaleb Tanzewski, 7-0, Fr., 6.0 ppg, 5.5 rpg; F Brandon Ashley, 6-8, Fr., 8.0 ppg, 5.8 rpg; F Solomon Hill, 6-7, Sr., 14.0 ppg, 5.3 rpg; G Mark Lyons 6-1, Sr., 15.4 ppg, 3.0 apg; G Nick Johnson, 6-3, So., 12.3 ppg, 2.9 apg.

SERIES: Colorado leads 10-7, including a 6-2 mark in Boulder.

UP NEXT: The Buffs play host to Arizona State (7 p.m. Saturday). The game will be televised by ESPNU.