CU men's basketball preview: Utah Utes

TIPOFF: Saturday, 4 p.m., CU Events Center.

BROADCAST: TV — ESPNU; Radio — 760 AM.

RECORDS: Utah 15-12, 9-6 Pac-12 Conference; Colorado 16-11, 7-8.

COACHES: Utah — Larry Krystkowiak, 8th season (153-109, 195-129 overall); Colorado — Tad Boyle, 9th season (182-121, 238-187 overall).

KEY PLAYERS: Utah — G Sedrick Barefield, Sr., 16.7 ppg, 4.0 apg; F Timmy Allen, Fr., 11.8 ppg, 5.2 rpg; F Donnie Tillman, So., 10.0 ppg, 5.5 rpg. Colorado — G McKinley Wright, So., 13.2 ppg, 5.0 apg, 4.8 rpg; F Tyler Bey, 12.6 ppg, 9.4 rpg; F Lucas Siewert, Jr., 10.6 ppg, 5.1 rpg.

NOTES: Utah freshman Timmy Allen torched the Buffs for 21 points, 10 rebounds, and four assists in the Utes' 78-69 home win against CU on Jan. 20, but the Buffs may not have to face Allen this time. The 6-foot-6 forward has missed the past two games due to a back injury, and Krystkowiak told the Salt Lake Tribune this week the Utes would be "conservative" in their approach to getting Allen back on the floor...CU committed 11 turnovers in the first half of that previous game at Utah but had none after halftime...Siewert recorded three assists in a game just once in his first 83 games with CU. He has reached that mark five times in the past six games while averaging 3.2 assists during that span...Bey has posted five double-doubles in the past seven games.


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..The Buffs host UCLA in the penultimate home game of the regular season on Thursday (7 p.m., ESPN2).

Officially they are dubbed the Runnin' Utes. And on several occasions this season the Utah men's basketball team has lived up to that moniker.

The Colorado Buffaloes got a good look at that trait on the road in late January. Playing without starting point guard McKinley Wright, the Utes quickly ran the Buffs out of the gym in what became CU's ninth loss in the past 10 games against Utah.

It wasn't the last time the Utes have quickly subdued an opponent, and Utah also has gone on to become arguably the best road team in the Pac-12 Conference. The Buffs will have their hands full trying to slow the Utes' quick-strike ability as well as their 3-point prowess in the rematch Saturday afternoon at the CU Events Center.

"They're a great road team. They're 6-2 in the league on the road," CU head coach Tad Boyle said. "This environment isn't going to scare them. They're battle-tested. They're mentality tough. They almost prefer the road than they do (playing) at home. It seems like it. There's not many teams in America where you can say that."

While the Buffs rallied late in Salt Lake City, it wasn't nearly enough to overcome the early ambush the Utes unleashed to bury CU. With the Buffs trailing just 9-7 in the game's early stages, the Utes promptly reeled off 12 consecutive points in what became a 25-4 run.

Such runs have become a habit for the Utes. In a home win against Arizona on Feb. 14, the Wildcats held a one-point lead with just under 12 minutes remaining. Utah scored the next nine points while burying UA over the next seven minutes in a game-breaking 18-2 run. The Utes did it again during last week's win at Washington State, turning a five-point lead for the Cougars into their own seven-point lead in about five and a half minutes.

Moreover, the Utes have evolved into the top 3-point shooting team in the Pac-12. Utah ranks second overall in the league in 3-point percentage (.380) and first in Pac-12 games (.396). No team has attempted or made more threes overall, or in league play, than Utah, and the Utes went 9-for-22 from the arc in their home win against the Buffs in January.

Sedrick Barefield is the Utes leading scorer (16.7) and ranks eighth in Pac-12 games in 3-point percentage (.401), but it is fellow senior Parker Van Dyke who has been on a tear of late for the Utes. Van Dyke ranks third in Pac-12 games in 3-point percentage (.428), and in the 10 games since the Buffs played in Salt Lake City he has shot .462 (31-for-67) from long range.

"At their place, it was a game until we started turning the ball over," Boyle said. "They're not a pressing team, but they threw a little soft press on us and we peed down our leg. We turned it over on four or five possessions there and they blew the game open.

"Defensively, with Utah they're the best 3-point shooting team in the league. They take a lot of them and they make a lot of them. And they've got multiple guys that can make 3-point shots. It starts with Sedrick Barefield, but it doesn't end there."

The Buffs go into Saturday's action around the Pac-12 tied with Oregon for ninth place but, somewhat remarkably, can still reach the coveted top-four spots in the standings if the right pieces fall into place. First and foremost on that list is winning out at home over the final three games of the regular season. And that goal, of course, begins with Saturday's date against the Utes.

"We have to win all of our games to get into the top four spots," CU guard Shane Gatling said. "We're just going to take it game-by-game. We're focusing on Utah right now. Once that's over we'll focus on UCLA, and then we'll focus on USC."

Pat Rooney: rooneyp@dailycamera.com or twitter.com/prooney07