TUCSON, Ariz. — The McKale Center crowd buzzed in the minutes before the opening tip, more like a postseason game than another conference game.
With support like that, it’s not hard for top-ranked Arizona to get off to a fast start.
Charged by the mojo created inside one of college basketball’s best home-court advantages, the Wildcats raced out to a big lead and held on down the stretch to remain unbeaten with a 69-57 win over Colorado on Thursday night.
“This is why we love McKale; we feel like it’s like this all the time,” said Arizona forward Brandon Ashley, who had 15 points.
Arizona (19-0, 6-0 Pac-12) had a week off after blowing out rival Arizona State and was still in a groove early, building a 14-point lead in the opening six minutes.
The big lead allowed the Wildcats some leeway in the second half when things didn’t go quite as well.
Arizona struggled from the perimeter, making 3 of 15 from 3-point range, had a rare night when it didn’t outrebound the opposition (32-32) and missed three free throws in the closing 72 seconds to keep the game from becoming a rout.
The Wildcats pulled it out thanks to the big start and 44 points in the paint, allowing them to tie — with the 1992-93 and 1997-98 teams — for the longest winning streak in school history.
Nick Johnson led Arizona with 18 points and Aaron Gordon added 12.
“Our second half maybe wasn’t as good as our first, but there are always good lessons to be learned from that and still leave with the win,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said.
A year after nearly pulling off an upset in the desert, Colorado (15-5, 4-3) had no chance for late-game heroics in its third game without leading scorer Spencer Dinwiddie.
The Buffaloes struggled to slow Arizona’s bevy of scorers and couldn’t shoot their way out of the big early hole, falling to 0-16 all-time against No. 1 teams.
Xavier Johnson led Colorado with 21 points and Josh Scott added 15 with 11 rebounds.
“We dug ourselves a hole,” Colorado coach Tad Boyle said. “We had trouble scoring the ball and they made shots. We didn’t have an offensive rhythm all night.
The Buffaloes split their first two games without Dinwiddie, losing to UCLA and beating Southern California after the junior sustained a season-ending left knee injury against Washington on Jan. 12.
Arizona was a much stiffer challenge without Dinwiddie, Colorado’s scoring and assists leader.
The nation’s top-ranked team for seven straight weeks, Arizona entered the game fifth in scoring defense (56.7 points) and shooting percentage against (37 percent) and was 22nd at defending 3-pointers (29 percent).
Colorado needed someone to step up and no one was able to do it early against Arizona’s relentless pressure.
Barely able to get passes off much less good shots, the Buffaloes missed their first five shots and had four turnovers in the opening six minutes.
Arizona also missed its first five shots, but started dropping them in from all over, building a quick 18-4 lead.
The Buffaloes settled down for a little bit, cutting the lead to six with a 10-2 run.
All that seemed to do was make the Wildcats play harder.
Ratcheting the defensive pressure back up, Arizona hounded the Buffaloes into more missed shots and turnovers, leading to breakouts and 3-pointers at the other end.
Starting with a 12-2 run, the Wildcats built the halftime lead to 39-24, holding Colorado to 8-of-27 shooting while forcing nine turnovers. Johnson had 12 at the half and Ashley nine.
“We do what we’ve been doing, just focusing on the process of Arizona basketball and that’s just a little glimpse of what we can do,” Gordon said.
Colorado had a little moruccess shooting to start the second half, hitting three of its first four shots.
Problem was, the Buffaloes couldn’t stop the Wildcats.
Arizona hit its first six shots, including one by Ashley that bounced off Scott and into the basket and a reverse dunk off a spin move by Gordon that put the Wildcats up 51-31.
The Wildcats made 12 of 22 shots in the second half to prevent Colorado from cutting the lead under double digits.
“We were playing the No. 1 team in the nation, but they weren’t that good,” Xavier Johnson said. “We didn’t come in here with the (right) mindset and it’s hard coming into this atmosphere.”
No. 6 FLORIDA 68, ALABAMA 62
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) — Michael Frazier II scored 18 points and made five 3-pointers to lead Florida over Alabama.
It was the 10th consecutive win for the Gators (16-2, 5-0 Southeastern Conference), matching last season’s longest streak.
The Crimson Tide (8-10, 2-3) had its league-best 14-game SEC home winning streak snapped.
Florida went 8 of 10 from the free throw line over the final 47 seconds to halt any Alabama threat.
Frazier shot 5 of 13, all from 3-point range. Casey Prather scored 14 points on 6-of-16 shooting for the Gators. Scottie Wilbekin had 10 points and four assists.
Trevor Releford led Alabama with 14 points and Nick Jacobs had 12. The Tide was without No. 2 scorer Retin Obasohan, who strained his left hip flexor in Tuesday’s practice.
The Gators, who earned win No. 100 for the four-man senior class, have won the last eight meetings and 10 of 11. Alabama has lost three of its last four overall.
No. 15 CINCINNATI 69, CENTRAL FLORIDA 51
CINCINNATI (AP) — Justin Jackson matched his career high by blocking seven shots and Sean Kilpatrick scored 19 points with a strong second half carried Cincinnati past Central Florida for its 11th straight win.
Cincinnati (19-2, 7-0 American Athletic) is off to its best start since 2001-02, when it was in Conference USA. The Bearcats’ winning streak is their longest since they opened last season with 12 wins.
And it’s been mostly a matter of defense. The Bearcats have held their last 27 opponents under 70 points, the longest active streak in Division I. They took control of this one by opening the second half with an 18-5 run.
Central Florida (9-8, 1-5) has lost four in a row. The Knights were only 5 of 16 from the free throw line, had 14 turnovers and shot 34 percent from the field.
No. 17 OHIO STATE 62, ILLINOIS 55
COLUMBUS, Ohio — LaQuinton Ross scored 18 points and Lenzelle Smith Jr. had 16 — including a critical 3-pointer in the waning moments — to help Ohio State end a four-game skid with a win over Illinois.
Aaron Craft added 11 points, six rebounds and five assists for the Buckeyes (16-4, 3-4 Big Ten), who had lost four in a row for the first time since 2007-08.
Joseph Bertrand had 19 points for the Illini (13-7, 2-5), who lost their fifth straight. They haven’t won since Jan. 4 and play three of their next four games against ranked opponents.
Rayvonte Rice, averaging 17.4 points a game, was 0 for 8 from the field and went scoreless. The Illini have lost their last six Big Ten road games and fell to 1-4 against ranked teams this season.
No. 23 MEMPHIS 82, HOUSTON 59
MEMPHIS, Tenn — Shaq Goodwin had 20 points, Joe Jackson added 18 points and seven assists, and Memphis jumped out to a big lead early against Houston.
The Tigers (14-4, 4-2 American Athletic Conference) never trailed and led by 17 in the first half of their fourth win in five games.
Meanwhile, the Cougars (11-8, 3-3) have lost three of four.
TaShawn Thomas led Houston with 14 points and Brandon Morris added 13.
L.J. Rose had 10 assists for the Cougars, who shot 42.6 percent and committed 18 turnovers.
Memphis had 15 turnovers but overcame them with 59 percent shooting. The Tigers held a 48-36 advantage in the paint and outrebounded Houston 33-28.
Memphis lost its previous two conference home games to Cincinnati and Connecti