CU men's basketball preview: Utah Utes
MATCHUP: Utah Utes (17-10, 8-7 Pac-12 Conference) at Colorado Buffaloes (16-12, 6-9).
GAME TIME: Thursday, 9 p.m., Coors Events Center.
BROADCAST: TV — ESPNU; Radio — 760 AM.
COACHES: Utah — Larry Krystkowiak, 6th season (112-83, 154-103 overall); Colorado — Tad Boyle, 7th season (146-92, 202-158 overall).
LEADERS: Utah — Scoring: F Kyle Kuzma, Jr., 15.8 ppg; Rebounding: Kuzma, 10.1 rpg; Assists: G Lorenzo Bonam, Sr., 2.9 apg. Colorado — Scoring: G Derrick White, Sr., 16.8 ppg; Rebounding: F Wesley Gordon, Sr., and G George King, Jr., 7.0 rpg; Assists: White, 4.1 apg.
NOTABLE: In three games against CU since last season, Utah's Bonham has averaged 16 points while shooting .588 (20-for-34) from the field...CU owns a 15-3 edge all-time at home against Utah but has lost the past two in Boulder...Gordon needs just three rebounds to take over sixth place among CU's all-time leaders. While Gordon still shares CU's rebounding lead, he has averaged just 4.1 over his past seven games while watching his average drop from 8.1 to 7.0 during that span...In three games against Utah, CU senior Josh Fortune is just 5-for-17 from the field with an 0-for-9 mark on 3-pointers...Freshman Bryce Peters is expected to remain sidelined for a second game due to a suspension from a violation of team rules...
The pain is all too real to Colorado's Dom Collier.
Like the bulk of the Buffaloes' roster, Collier has yet to experience the thrill of victory against Utah since he arrived in Boulder. Instead it has been one disappointment for another for the Buffaloes whenever they tip off against the Utes, who bring a six-game winning streak against CU to the Coors Events Center for a Pac-12 Conference battle Thursday night.
"It's the only team we haven't beat since I've been here," junior guard Dom Collier said. "We just have to come out with a different mentality and make sure we play hard from the get-go. It's coming down the stretch with the last couple games, and the last games for our seniors, too. As younger guys, we have to make sure we bring energy for them."
The only current Buffs who were on the floor when CU posted its most recent victory against Utah on Feb. 1, 2014 are fifth-year seniors Xavier Johnson and Wesley Gordon, in addition to fourth-year junior George King.
Since then, it has been a six-game run of futility for the Buffs against the Utes. In the first three of those losses, CU averaged just 54.7 points per game while losing by an average of 21.3 points.
Last season's two losses against the Utes, while still low-scoring, presented even more heartbreaking results. In the Utes' last visit to Boulder on Jan. 8, 2016, the Buffs led by seven points with under five minutes remaining when Utah closed with an 11-2 run, capped by a winning layup by Lorenzo Bonam with 1.1 seconds remaining.
Almost two months later at Utah, the Buffs used a 16-0 run to take a 14-point lead with about eight minutes to play only to watch the Utes answer with a 19-0 run in what became a two-point Utah win.
The teams' previous matchup this year, though, offered a stark contrast, with the Buffs hardly putting up a fight despite opening the game with a 10-2 lead. That lack of energy is the No. 1 issue CU head coach Tad Boyle believes his team needs to correct in order to end the losing streak against the Utes.
"I take the fact that they kicked our tail in the second half," Boyle said. "I don't think we competed in that game. It's the one game probably in conference play that I can look at and say, 'Colorado did not compete.' That bothered me at the time. It bothers me now. We've competed since then. Certainly haven't always come out on top.
"To me, the thing that sticks out in that game is they just kicked our tail in every facet. The rebounding battle was even, but they played harder, they played tougher, they made the plays. We didn't. We were at that point where we miss a shot, we'd get our head down and let it affect us at the other end. Hopefully we're past that."
Although the Buffs are coming off a blowout loss at Oregon, they might be catching Utah at an opportune moment. The Utes have lost their past four road games and are coming off a stunning loss at Oregon State, which had been winless in Pac-12 play.
"I feel like besides that game, the first game of our Pac-12 game, we've competed in every game," Collier said. "We may have come up short in many of them, but we competed and showed heart. I feel like we're going to do that, because we've been more conscious of that each and every game."