CU men's basketball preview: Utah
MATCHUP: Colorado Buffaloes (16-13, 8-9 Pac-12) at Utah Utes (18-10, 10-7)
GAME TIME: Saturday, 5 p.m. MT, at the Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City
BROADCAST: TV — Pac-12 Networks. Radio — KOA 850 AM and KDSP 760 AM
COACHES: Colorado — Tad Boyle, 8th year (165-108 at CU; 221-174 career); Utah — Larry Krystkowiak, 7th season (133-95 at Utah; 175-115 career).
LEADERS: Colorado — Scoring: G McKinley Wright, Fr., 14.1 ppg; Rebounding: G George King, Sr., 8.0; Assists: Wright, 5.4 apg. Utah — Scoring: G Justin Bibbins, Sr., 14.1 ppg; Rebounding: F Tyler Rawson, Sr., 6.8 rpg; Assists: Bibbins, 5.0 apg.
NOTABLE: This game is the regular season finale for both teams. ... CU won the first matchup, 67-55, in Boulder on Feb. 2. That snapped a seven-game losing streak to the Utes. ... CU has lost five in a row in Salt Lake City, since a 55-48 win on Feb. 18, 2012. ... CU is tied with Arizona State for eighth in the Pac-12 standings. Regardless of what happens this weekend, the Buffs and Sun Devils will play each other in the first round of the Pac-12 Tournament next week in Las Vegas. ... CU senior Dominique Collier needs two steals to reach 100 for his career.
The Colorado men's basketball team that shows up to games played at Coors Events Center is often a tough team to beat, and some of the best teams in the Pac-12 have been defeated in Boulder this season.
The Colorado men's basketball team that shows up to games on the road, however, is often a much different squad that struggles to beat even the worst teams in the conference.
"It does (surprise me)," freshman forward Dallas Walton said. "Sometimes the mistakes we make on the road are things we never even think about would happen here.
"It's always one of the four things we talk about. Coach says we control four things: defense, rebounding, our toughness and taking care of the ball. It's always one of those four things that rears its head when we're on the road. When we're able to consistently control all four of those things, we'll be pretty good."
CU (16-13, 8-9 Pac-12) will take another crack at controlling those things on Saturday when it visits Utah (18-10, 10-7) in the regular season finale for both teams.
The Buffs are 1-9 in road games this season, and Utah's Huntsman Center has never been an easy place for them to visit. The Buffs have lost five in a row there, including some ugly performances in that stretch.
CU head coach Tad Boyle said the Huntsman Center has been tough, in large part, because of the knowledgeable and engaged fans of the Utes, but also because Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak typically has his team ready to play.
But, Boyle, pointed out, the Utes have lost three times at home this season, including last Saturday against Southern California.
"We know they can be beat there," Boyle said. "But, Utah, much like some of the better teams in our league, you have to go beat them. They're not going to beat themselves."
To beat the Utes, CU is hoping to replicate the formula that worked on Feb. 2, when the Buffs won 67-55 in Boulder.
In that game, CU's forwards — Walton, Tyler Bey and Lucas Siewert — were stellar defensively against Utah's duo of David Collette and Tyler Rawson. The Utes' senior bigs were held to 13 points and nine rebounds between them.
"We have to go on the road with that same mentality of limiting their post touches," Boyle said, "and when they catch it down there, we have to make them score over us, not around us. We can't foul them. It's key. Our interior defense is key."
Walton said the Pac-12 schedule always presents challenges in the paint, but recognizes the importance of shutting down Collette and Rawson.
"It's going to be a big challenge and one I think we're all ready to face," he said.
More than anything, however, the challenge for the Buffs will be to play with the confidence they often display in Boulder.
Boyle talked with his team this week about playing with an edge, which is something they clearly didn't have in their last road trip, to Washington State and Washington.
"We just have to be mentally focused and ready to take on that challenge," Walton said. "From now on until the end of the season, we're not going to be playing at home anymore, so we have to really lock in to being able to execute and take care of the things we can control on the road."
Just how long CU's season lasts depends on whether the Buffs can do that. After this game, they'll head to Las Vegas for the Pac-12 Tournament and Walton said it's vital for the Buffs to take some momentum into that tournament if they want to extend their season.
"This game is huge," Walton said. "Not only for them because it's their senior night, but for us, as well. If we win this game, it gives us a lot of momentum going into (the Pac-12 Tournament). Momentum can only help."