CU men's basketball preview: Utah
GAME TIME: Friday, 7 p.m., Coors Events Center.
MATCHUP: Utah Utes (13-8, 5-5 Pac-12 Conference) at Colorado Buffaloes (12-10, 4-6).
BROADCAST: TV — FOX Sports 1; Radio — 850 AM.
COACHES: Utah — Larry Krystkowiak, 7th season (128-93, 170-113 overall); Colorado — Tad Boyle, 8th season (161-105, 217-171 overall).
LEADERS: Utah — Scoring: G Justin Bibbins, Sr., 14.0 ppg; Rebounding: F Tyler Rawson, Sr., 6.2 rpg; Assists: Bibbins, 5.1 apg. Colorado — Scoring: G McKinley Wright, Fr., and G/F George King, Sr., 14.3 ppg; Rebounding: King, 8.2 rpg; Assists: Wright, 5.4 apg.
NOTES: Through 22 games, King and Wright have scored the exact same number of points (314). Wright has led the Buffs in scoring for much of the season but King has closed the gap by averaging 17.7 points over the past six games...CU senior guard Dom Collier has struggled in six career games against the Utes, shooting .289 (11-for-38) with only six assists against 10 turnovers...Wright has averaged 6.2 assists and just 1.8 turnovers over the past five games...Utah had won three consecutive games before suffering a one-point loss at then-No. 11 Arizona last week...CU hosts home dates next week against Cal (Wednesday) and Stanford (Saturday).
There is just something about a visit from Utah that brings out the worst in the Colorado men's basketball team.
The Buffaloes' final fortunes for the 2017-18 season is likely to hinge heavily on a run of three consecutive home games that begins Friday night with a visit from the Utes. In order to get the homestand off on the right foot, the Buffs will have to overcome a run of futility against Utah that includes seven consecutive losses overall and three straight losses at home.
"A lot of it comes down to winning close games. It's not like they've routed us," said CU head coach Tad Boyle, whose club brings a three-game losing streak into Friday's contest. "They've beat us certainly a couple times convincingly, but most of the games have come down to the wire. They've been the team that makes plays down the stretch and we haven't. To me, that gets back to execution.
"I've got a lot of respect for them and they're always hard-fought games."
Utah is 8-5 overall against CU since both teams joined the Pac-12 Conference before the 2011-12 season, with the Buffs picking up all five of those victories within the teams' first six matchups as league foes.
Since then, the rivalry has been all Utah, which hasn't been intimidated by the atmosphere at the Coors Events Center. In 2015, Utah left Colorado with a victory after the struggling Buffs shot just .298 — their second lowest mark of that season and their worst shooting performance among 17 home games. Two years ago at home, the Buffs were outscored 11-2 over the final 5 minutes, 25 seconds, with Utah's Lorenzo Bonam converting the winning shot with 1.1 seconds remaining.
That frustration continued for CU last year, with the Utes handing the Buffs an 86-81 defeat in which Utah shot a robust .553. That was the fourth-best mark by a CU opponent all season and the second-best among the 17 visitors to the Coors Events Center.
Fifth-year senior George King is the only CU player who was on the floor when the Buffs posted their most recent win against Utah, recording a lone rebound in four minutes of a 79-75 overtime win at home exactly four years ago Thursday.
"If I don't remember it, and I do usually remember most games, it's been too long since we've beat them," King said. "They've always been a high-executing team. You have to come out and beat them. They're not going to beat themselves. It's taken us four years to figure that out."
Friday's game also represents the beginning of a stretch run of home games for King and fellow senior Dom Collier who, within the next three-plus weeks, will play their final five home games in CU uniforms (barring a possible home date in a postseason tournament like the NIT).
King needs six points to become the 22nd CU player to reach the 1,200-point mark in his career, and he needs four 3-pointers to surpass former teammate Askia Booker for the fifth-most made 3-pointers in team history. King's recent surge from long range — he is 24-for-50 (.480) on 3-pointers over the past six games — once again has King on the cusp of taking over CU's all-time lead for career 3-point percentage. King enters the Utah game with a career mark of .405, just a tick behind Mack Tuck's career record of .406.
"I'm starting to feel that and it's a bittersweet feeling. More bitter than sweet," King said. "I can't stop that. The only thing I can control is how I go about it. And I'm looking forward to these last couple home games."