After not faring very well in the state of Washington on its most recent road trip, the Colorado Buffaloes men’s basketball team can find solace in the fact that it will finish the season in the cozy confines of the CU Events Center, where the Buffs boast a solid 10-2 record.
Colorado (17-11, 8-8 Pac-12) welcomed its state neighbors, the Utah Utes, to Boulder in the first contest of this three-game homestand to finish the season. Home-court advantage favored CU on Saturday evening as the Buffaloes beat the Utes, 71-63.
It didn’t take Colorado long to get on the board to begin the game, as sophomore forward D’Shawn Schwartz opened the scoring just 25 seconds after tip-off.
The Utes tried to get ahead early, opting to shoot a three for their first shot of the contest. Donnie Tillman, however, airballed the three-point attempt and the Buffs took it the other way.
The Utes are no strangers to shooting from beyond the arc. After tonight, they’ve made a Pac-12-leading 263 three-pointers and own the conference’s second-best three-point percentage at 38. The three-point airball by Utah to start the game was a welcomed sight for the Buffs. For the Utes, it was a first glimpse at how the rest of their game would play out.
Shortly thereafter, sophomore guard Tyler Bey then added two quick field goals to make it a 6-0 game.
Another failed three-point attempt by Utah and a Colorado rebound had the Buffs storming the other way. A frustrated Utes team committed a personal foul on sophomore guard McKinley Wright, who was driving the lane. Wright sank both free-throw attempts to give the Buffs an 8-0 advantage.
Utah struggled early to get any points on the board. It took the Utes five minutes to notch their first points of the evening, at which point the team was 1-for-8 from the floor and 0-for-5 from downtown.
“I think we just ran [Utah] off the line and made them take tough shots,” said Bey. “They made a couple tough shots, but that started our fast break.”
But the Utes found their groove. Two quick layups from Utah’s Timmy Allen pulled the Utes within two, making it an 8-6 game. And before you knew it, a Sedrick Barefield three-pointer gave Utah a 9-8 lead, forcing head coach Tad Boyle and the Buffaloes to take a timeout with 12:43 remaining the first half.
Following the timeout, Bey put the Buffs back in the lead off a layup, but only briefly before the Utes’ Novak Topalovic made an easy layup, adding an and-one after junior guard Shane Gatling fouled the forward. It was then a 12-10 advantage for Utah.
Bey took the game in his own hands, throwing down a slam dunk to put the Buffaloes back in the lead and bring the crowd on their feet with nine minutes left in the half. The sophomore guard led CU with 15 points and seven rebounds in the first half.
The dunk by Bey also appeared to give the team a spark, as the Buffs were in the midst of a 9-0 run before the Utes could finally put points back on the board. Similar to the start of the game, the Utes struggled to get any offense going. Utah went on a six minute scoreless run before making its next basket. After the Donnie Tillman layup, it was 21-16 in favor of Colorado.
The two teams exchanged baskets in the ensuing minutes. Tillman caught fire and drained two threes to cut Colorado’s lead to 30-26 with a couple minutes left in the half.
“Utah is a team [that’s] never out of it because they shoot the three so well,” said head coach Tad Boyle. “They came back from 22 down and 17 down to win a game this year.”
The Buffs had the last laugh of the first half, however, when Schwartz hit a buzzer-beating three to send CU into halftime with a 35-26 lead. The home team outshot Utah 48 percent to 35 percent from the floor in the first half.
“It’s just a matter of knowing personnel,” said Schwartz of the defense holding Utah to low-percentage shots. “We were just focused on running people off the line that we needed to and making sure drivers don’t get in the paint.”
Freshman forward Evan Battey came out hot for the Buffaloes to start the second half, hitting a jump shot in the first minute to open the scoring for CU. Less than a minute later Battey took it back down the court for a quick layup, making it a 39-28 game.
A personal foul by Wright put the Buffs on the wrong side of a Utah scoring run. The foul gave Barefield three free shots, of which he nailed every one. The Utes’ Both Gach nailed two back-to-back shots within 45 seconds and all of the sudden the 7-0 run by Utah cut Colorado’s lead to 39-35 just four minutes into the second half.
Wright atoned for his earlier sins and hit a three-pointer to put the Buffs back on the board. But Utah wasn’t having it, as the Utes hit a three of their own just seconds later. Junior guard Shane Gatling responded with another three for CU to make it 45-38. It was Gatling’s first and only points of the contest.
Both teams traded free throws for the next few minutes before sophomore forward Alexander Strating hit his first points of the evening on a big and-one to extend the Buffs’ lead to 51-40 with 12 minutes left in the game.
As the game neared its end, it settled into more of a slower paced trading of layups. With seven minutes left, it was 55-46 for the Buffaloes.
Two Schwartz free throws ended two minutes of scoreless action before he added two more points to his total to make it 59-46.
With a little less than five minutes remaining, Utah made one final push against Colorado. Following Schwartz’s points, the Utes went on a quick 6-2 run before Schwartz added two more free throws to halt the momentum. The aforementioned finished the game 16 points.
Utah’s Barefield nailed a three to pull the Utes within six points, but junior guard Lucas Siewert responded with his first points of the night on a very timely three-pointer of his own, making it 66-57 in favor of CU with a little less than two minutes left. Barefield tallied seven points on his own in the final 90 seconds, giving Colorado quite the scare. But the Buffs would hang on.
“I thought our focus pretty much stayed true to form for 40 minutes and that’s what we’ve been asking these guys,” said Boyle. “They answered the bell tonight.”
The Buffs held one of the best three point-shooting teams to just 5-of-26. CU finished the game shooting a respectable 48 percent from the field compared to Utah’s 39 percent.
“I thought our defensive toughness [and] identity tonight really exhibited itself and it has to— that’s got to be something that has to be a constant,” added Boyle. “It doesn’t guarantee you’re going to win but it gives you a chance…great team victory and I’m really happy with today’s result.”
Colorado had a total of four shooters in double digits, including Bey, who finished with a double-double ( team-high 17 points and 10 rebounds), followed by Schwartz’s 16 total, then Battey (15) and Wright (14).
The Buffs continue their homestand as they go head to head with the UCLA Bruins on Thursday, March 7 at 7 p.m. MST.
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