Colorado’s Askia Bookerduring Thursday’s game in Arizona.
Colorado's Askia Bookerduring Thursday's game in Arizona. (JOHN MILLER / AP)

Fast break

What went right: Despite a miserable start, the Buffs didn't collapse. They made every effort to get back into the game and avoided getting completely blown out.

What went wrong: From the start, the Buffs were simply overmatched by the Wildcats. The top-ranked team in the country pulled ahead early and coasted the rest of the way.

Star of the game: Xavier Johnson. The sophomore scored a season-high 21 points, including 16 in the second half. He made 7 of 12 shots from the floor, including 4-for-5 from 3-point range.

What's next?: The Buffs will visit Arizona State on Saturday at 5 p.m.

TUCSON, Ariz. — — From the start, the Colorado men's basketball team got in a big hole on Thursday.

The Buffaloes spent the rest of the night trying in vain to dig out of it.

Yet, after a 69-57 loss to top-ranked Arizona, CU sophomore Xavier Johnson walked out of the McKale Center with confidence.

"We were playing the No. 1 team in the nation, but they're not that good," Johnson said. "We didn't come with the right mindset."

"They are the No. 1 team and they just beat us, so I can't really talk, but everybody has their lapses, you know? We have better players than them, I think, even down a player - two great players. We just have to battle and get better."

Those were surprising comments after CU spent most of the night trailing by double digits. But, led by Johnson's game-high 21 points, the Buffs (15-5, 4-3) did outscore the Wildcats (19-0, 6-0) by two points, 53-51, during the final 34 minutes of the game.

It was those first six minutes, however, that set the tone for the night.

One of just three undefeated teams in the country, Arizona scored the first nine points of the game and led by 14 after just six minutes. That was the lapse Johnson talked about.

"From then on, it was pretty much an even game," CU head coach Tad Boyle said. "But we just dug ourselves that hole and couldn't get out of it."

Arizona relied on its exceptional depth and balance to keep the Buffs at bay. Nick Johnson had 18 points to lead the Wildcats, while Brandon Ashley had 15 and Aaron Gordon had 12.

As a team, Arizona shot 49.2 percent from the floor. The Wildcats also had 16 assists and only seven turnovers. CU had six assists and 16 turnovers.

"That's the difference between the two offensive teams right now," Boyle said. "We didn't have an offensive rhythm all night."

In addition to Johnson, the Buffs got a double-double from Josh Scott (15 points, 11 rebounds), but the 6-foot-10 forward had to battle for everything he got. Guard Askia Booker added 11 points, but going against Nick Johnson most of the night, he was just 4-of-13 from the floor.

Aside from that trio, the Buffs got just 10 points from the other six players who saw the court.

CU lost for the third time in four games - all since losing star point guard Spencer Dinwiddie and key reserve Tre'Shaun Fletcher to knee injuries. Dinwiddie is out for the season.

Nevertheless, the Buffs didn't fold when Arizona, in front of its red-clad crowd of 14,545, bolted out of the gates. Led by Johnson's 16 second-half points, CU cut the deficit to 11 in the closing minutes.

"We have to use the positives out of this," Boyle said. "We won the second half. We continued to battle. We stuck together. We didn't fall apart.

"The way our guys battled and stuck together I think is a positive thing. We have to build on that. This is a tough place to win. Your margin for error is really, really small when you come in here.

"The good news is we get another crack at these guys, at our place."

Arizona will visit Boulder on Feb. 22, and Johnson can't wait.

"That'll be a 20-point blowout," he said. "We just have to keep playing hard and work.

"We actually beat them in the second half, so we were able to show that we can win and we can beat the No. 1 team. We just have to put two halves together."

Contact BuffZone.com Writer Brian Howell at howellb@dailycamera.com or twitter.com/brianhowell33.