CU men's basketball preview: No. 13 Utah
MATCHUP: Colorado Buffaloes (21-9, 10-7 Pac-12 Conference) at Utah Utes (23-7, 12-5).
GAME TIME: Saturday, 7:30 p.m., Jon M. Huntsman Center.
BROADCAST: TV — ESPNU; Radio — 850 AM.
COACHES: Colorado — Tad Boyle, sixth season (129-77, 185-143 overall); Utah — Larry Krystkowiak, fifth year (91-71, 133-91 overall).
LEADERS: Colorado — Scoring: F/C Josh Scott, Sr., 16.7 ppg; Rebounding: Scott, 8.8 rpg; Assists: G Dom Collier, So., 2.9 apg. Utah — Scoring: F/C Jakob Poeltl, So., 17.6 ppg; Rebounding: 9.0 rpg; Assists: G Brandon Taylor, Sr., 3.9 apg.
NOTABLE: Utah suffered a loss against Oregon at home one game after defeating CU in Boulder on Jan. 8 but has won 11 of 13 games since. The Utes bring a six-game win streak into the rematch. ... CU's George King paced the Buffs in the previous game against Utah, scoring 21 points while making 8-of-10 shots from the floor. ... The Buffs' Wesley Gordon has averaged 10.3 rebounds over the past seven games. ... CU coach Tad Boyle has noted a slight schematic shift for the Utes since the teams' first meeting. "They're playing more zone now defensively," Boyle said, "so we've tried to prepare for that."
Not that it was easy the first time, but Josh Scott understands his interior battle against Utah's Jakob Poeltl will be even more challenging the second time around.
Colorado Buffaloes men's basketball coach Tad Boyle is confident his senior big man is more than up to the task.
With their position for next week's Pac-12 Conference tournament still up in the air, the Buffs complete the regular season Saturday night with a daunting road challenge at No. 13 Utah. The Utes handed CU its only home loss of the season in stunning fashion on Jan. 8, and in the two months since Poeltl has made an emphatic statement toward staking his claim as the top post player in the nation.
Yet few teams have managed to slow Poeltl as effectively as Scott and the Buffaloes did previously. It's a feat the Buffs likely will have to repeat in order to pull an upset and keep alive their chances at the No. 4 seed in the Pac-12 tournament.
"I know they are playing through Jakob Poeltl a lot. My message to Josh is, hold him to six points again and you've done your job," Boyle said. "Now, that's easier said than done. I'm sure they're going to be going to him more and he's a better player than he was back in January. But so is Josh Scott. That matchup is going to be key. It's a team thing with Jakob Poeltl, it's not just one guy. But Josh is as good a low-post defender as there is in the league."
Scott held Poeltl to a season-low six points in the teams' previous matchup, with Poeltl going 2-for-8 from the floor. The 7-foot Austrian was held to seven points in Utah's next game, a loss against Oregon that marked the Utes' only home defeat this season, but Poeltl has been on a monumental tear since.
Poeltl has scored at least 13 points in 12 of 13 games since that Oregon setback, averaging 19.1 points with a whopping .681 shooting percentage during that span.
Overall, Poeltl ranks second in the Pac-12 in scoring (17.6) and third in rebounding (9.0). The sophomore's field-goal percentage of .667 not only tops the league, but ranks fourth nationally and is far and away the leading mark among schools from the Power Five conferences.
This week, Poeltl told the Salt Lake Tribune he likely will enter the NBA draft after this season.
"I think what he's been doing is he's kind of mixing up his post moves a little better when they get him the ball," Scott said. "Not that he didn't have a big bag of moves, but he was going to one specifically more than the rest. Now he's bringing out his whole bag of tricks. He's a good player. It's just one of those things where you have to play good defense and make him work for everything he gets."
The Buffs have lost their past four road games, and a loss Saturday would force CU to settle for either the fifth or sixth seed out of the league, depending on sixth-place USC's home battle against Oregon on Saturday. However, a win not only would give CU a shot at the No. 4 seed and the last automatic bye in the Pac-12 tourney (the Buffs also would need either Cal or Arizona to get upset on Saturday), but would be a school-record 22nd regular-season victory.
For a program in its 115th season of play, it's a shot at history the Buffs aren't taking lightly.
"I think it's special for the entire team because it hasn't been done in 115 years of CU basketball," senior guard Xavier Talton said. "For this whole entire team, to cement the legacy of having 22 regular-season wins would be pretty awesome."