What went right: Throughout the night, the Buffs played solid defense and they out-rebounded Utah 48-37. They held Utah to 31 percent shooting (18 of 58).
What went wrong: Offense was a struggle all night, with 18 turnovers and just 30.6 percent shooting (19-for-62) from the floor.
Star of the game: Kennedy Leonard. The sophomore struggled with her shot, like the rest of the team, but still finished with 24 points and a career-high nine rebounds. She scored nine of her points in the final 80 seconds.
What's next: The Buffs will play the Utes on Saturday in Salt Lake City at 12:30 p.m.
Throughout the night on Wednesday, Colorado's Kennedy Leonard was hit hard by Utah players and the Coors Events Center floor in a physical tussle with the Utes.
In the end, however, Leonard shrugged off any pain to put the Buffaloes on her shoulders. The sophomore point guard scored nine of her game-high 24 points in the final 80 seconds to left the Buffs to a 54-49 victory against Utah, snapped a five-game losing streak.
"I'm feeling good. We won," Leonard said. "My body will be OK. I can hurt tomorrow, but we won today, so that's what matters."
It certainly wasn't the prettiest game, as the Buffs (12-8, 2-7 Pac-12) fought through 18 turnovers and an awful night of shooting (19-for-62, 30.6 percent) to get a much-needed victory.
"Obviously, you can't hang everything on just getting that win, but we needed it and I know I feel good about it," CU head coach JR Payne said. "I think the team feels good about it and we need to use this as good momentum."
CU led by seven with 4 minutes to play, but Utah went on a 7-0 run to tie the game at 45-45 with 1:58 to go.
A three-point play by Leonard with 1:20 to play sparked CU's final rally, as they outscore the Utes ( 13-7, 2-7) by a 9-4 margin down the stretch.
Leonard pointed to the "little things," such as key rebounds, that were done by her teammates down the stretch and said she simply was the one with the ball in her hands.
"I ended up with the ball and luckily I could put it in the hoop tonight, so that was good," she said.
While Leonard had a big night scoring the ball, it was CU's ability to crash the boards that made the biggest difference.
CU and Utah came into the night as the two worst shooting teams in the Pac-12, and certainly didn't change that. Utah made just 31 percent (18 of 58) of its shots, with leading scorer Emily Potter limited to six points on 2-for-9 shooting. Potter, who averages 15.6 points, has scored in double figures in 46 of 53 games over the past two years.
With all those missed shots, there were plenty of rebounds to be had, and CU dominated the glass with a 48-37 advantage. Leonard and Monica Burich both had career-highs in rebounds, with nine each.
"Every time I go out, coach JR is always telling me to rebound," Burich said. "It's definitely one of my strengths, so I really like to bring that to the game and help out wherever I can."
CU came into the night 11th in the Pac-12 in rebounding margin.
"We have been near the bottom of the league in rebounding the last couple of weeks, but we've been talking about it, the importance of rebounding both ends," Payne said. "I'm just unbelievably proud of our effort. I think everybody rebounded."
The Buffs had 16 offensive rebounds and limited Utah to just nine.
Now, they'll get a chance to beat the Utes again, as they head to Salt Lake City for a rematch on Saturday.
"It's just a confidence builder," Leonard said of the win. "We've struggled a little bit coming off a good preseason, so to be able to get another win and hopefully on Saturday take exactly what we did today and get better at it, I think it's a confidence builder for us."
Senior Zoe Beard-Fails was in the starting lineup for the first time this season, taking the place of Zoe Correal. CU had used the same starting five all season until Wednesday. Beard-Fails had four points and six rebounds. ... Bri Watts celebrated her birthday on Wednesday and came off the bench to contribute two points and five boards. ... CU's field goal percentage was its lowest in a win since March 7, 2012, against Utah, when it shot 29.4 percent in a 55-41 victory. ... CU leads the all-time series 15-14. ... The Buffs outscored the Utes 17-12 in the third quarter — the first time they've won a third quarter since Dec. 17 against Mississippi Valley State.
Colorado 54, Utah 49
At Coors Events Center
UTAH (13-7, 2-7 Pac-12)
Mawahine 3-10 0-0 7, Bean 3-6 0-0 6, Potter 2-9 2-2 6, Crozon 5-12 0-0 12, Provo 0-4 0-0 0, Moore 3-8 5-5 11, Jacobs 2-3 0-0 4, Anae 0-1 1-4 1, Clark 0-5 2-2 2. Totals 18-58 10-13 49..
COLORADO (12-8, 2-7 Pac-12)
Ellis 2-4 0-0 4, Robinson 4-6 1-2 10, Leonard 7-19 9-13 24, Smith 2-8 0-0 5, Beard-Fails 1-5 2-4 4, Caylao-Do 0-2 0-0 0, Watts 1-4 0-0 2, Jones 0-0 0-0 0, Freeman 0-5 1-2 1, Thomas 0-0 0-0 0, Correal 1-3 0-0 2, Burich 1-6 0-0 2. Totals 19-62 13-21 54..
Score by quarters:Utah 14 10 12 13 — 49
Colorado 17 7 17 13 — 54
3-point goals — Utah 3-20 (Crozon 2-7, Nawahine 1-6, Provo 0-4, Moore 0-2, Bean 0-1), Colorado 3-12 (Smith 1-4, Leonard 1-3, Robinson 1-1, Beard-Fails 0-2, Ellis 0-1, Burich 0-1). Rebounds — Utah 37 (Potter 11), Colorado 48 (Leonard, Burich 9). Assists — Utah 8 (Nawahine 3), Colorado 9 (Leonard 3). Steals — Utah 10 (Moore 3), Colorado 13 (Robinson, Leonard 3). Turnovers — Utah 18, Colorado 18. Total fouls — Utah 19, Colorado 17. Fouled out — None. A — 1,457.