What went right: The Buffs received a solid effort from the bench, with Thomas Akyazili and Tory Miller playing key roles in a 16-0 CU run midway through the second half that had the Buffs primed for an upset.
What went wrong: CU simply couldn't stop the bleeding after Utah wrested the momentum, committing a slew of mistakes as the Utes surged ahead with a 19-0 run.
Star of the game: Tre'Shaun Fletcher. The junior kept the Buffs in the game early, making 3-of-4 3-point attempts in the first half before finishing with a team-leading 12 points.
What's next?: CU begins the Pac-12 tournament as the No. 5 seed and will face No. 12 Washington State on Wednesday in Las Vegas at 3:40 MST.
SALT LAKE CITY — For most teams, boxing out on an opponent's free throws typically is a given.
Yet Colorado Buffaloes head coach Tad Boyle readily admits that has been a glaring weakness for his team all season. And on Saturday night, that shortcoming played a major role in yet another lost opportunity on the road.
Unable to maintain the momentum after reeling off 16 consecutive points midway through the second half, CU suffered a 57-55 defeat Saturday night against No. 13 Utah. And the Utes' game-breaking run late in the second half was sparked by a rebound off their own missed free throw.
"When you have an Achilles heel and you don't take care of it, it's going to come back to haunt you," Boyle said. "Our two Achilles heels we've talked about all year are turnovers and free throw box outs. We talked about them back in November. And they both killed us tonight."
CU appeared destined to finally pick up an elusive marquee win on the road after surging ahead behind a 16-0 run, taking a 45-31 lead with 7 minutes, 24 seconds remaining.
Utah missed nine consecutive shots during CU's run and went scoreless for a span of 6:46 before senior Brandon Taylor ended the Utes' drought with a free throw. After he missed the second attempt, the Buffs' collapse began.
Utah star forward Jakob Poeltl collected the offensive rebound of the missed free throw, and the Utes took advantage of the extra possession with a 3-pointer by Jordan Loveridge. A subsequent turnover from CU's Dom Collier turned into a fast break putback basket by the Utes' Lorenzo Bonam, and within 33 seconds Utah managed to slash six points off the Buffs' 14-point advantage.
By the time the Utes completed their 19-0 run they held a 50-45 lead with 2:27 to go. The Buffs pulled to within a point with one minute remaining on a 3-point play from Josh Fortune, but CU went scoreless over the next 57 seconds while Taylor, Dakarai Tucker, and Poeltl combined to make four free throws to pad the Utes' lead.
"It goes from a 14-point game to a 10-point game, and then we come down and turn it over and boom, it's an eight-point game," Boyle said. "We had inopportune turnovers at crunch time, which you can't have. And the free throw box out sparked their run.
"We couldn't get a whistle. That's just part of being on the road. And we missed some baskets we could have and should have made. You have to make plays down the stretch on offense to stem the tide."
It was a rough night shooting-wise for the Buffs, who finished with a season-low field goal percentage of .305 (18-for-59). The struggles of the starting five — Wesley Gordon, Xavier Talton, Josh Scott, George King, and Collier — was particularly glaring, with the quintet finishing a combined 8-for-37. The bench, which played a key role in the 16-0 run that established the Buffs' lead, went 10-for-22.
While the Buffs certainly were eager for a win that would further cement their NCAA Tournament credentials, their No. 5 seed for next week's Pac-12 Conference tournament already was decided based on earlier results from around the league.
The Buffs (21-10, 10-8) will play No. 12 seed Washington State in the first round on Wednesday in Las Vegas at 3:40 MST.
"It started with a free throw box out, and that's something we've talked about all year," said Tre'Shaun Fletcher, who led CU with 12 points. "We had a couple turnovers and we just couldn't recover from it."
Gordon 1-4 0-0 2, Talton 2-6 0-0 6, Collier 1-7 3-4 6, King 1-7 0-0 2, Scott 3-13 5-6 11, Akyazili 2-2 0-0 4, Fletcher 3-7 3-3 12, Miller 3-7 1-2 7, Fortune 2-6 1-1 5. Totals 18-59 13-16 55.
Taylor 1-8 8-10 11, Bonam 7-14 2-3 16, Loveridge 3-14 2-2 10, Kuzma 0-4 0-0 0, Poeltl 6-12 4-7 16, Chapman 0-2 0-0 0, Tucker 1-4 1-2 4, Reyes 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 18-58 17-24 57.
Halftime: Colorado 21-20. 3-Point Goals: Colorado 6-16 (Fletcher 3-4, Talton 2-3, Collier 1-4, Fortune 0-2, King 0-3), Utah 4-21 (Loveridge 2-8, Tucker 1-3, Taylor 1-6, Bonam 0-1, Chapman 0-1, Kuzma 0-2). Fouled Out: Talton. Rebounds: Colorado 42 (Gordon 8), Utah 43 (Poeltl 13). Assists: Colorado 4 (Gordon 2), Utah 10 (Taylor 4). Total Fouls: Colorado 22, Utah 13. A: 15,000.