Last year’s Utah meltdowns not an issue for CU Buffs men’s basketball

Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer
Colorado’s Xavier Johnson, right, had to watch from the bench as the Buffs blew leads against Utah twice last season.

Enduring a constant array of frustrations is just part of the routine when a player misses an entire season due to an injury.

For Colorado Buffaloes senior Xavier Johnson, few moments during his year on the sideline caused more angst than watching his teammates’ repeated frustrations against Utah.

Johnson clearly remembers CU’s twin meltdowns against the Utes last year. Yet having already embarked on his comeback trail from a torn Achilles tendon, and with his final Pac-12 Conference run ready to begin Sunday in Salt Lake City, Johnson has taken a cue from his teammates by opting to look ahead instead of dwelling on last year’s disappointments against Utah.

“It was hard, but I want to leave the past in the past and look forward to the future,” Johnson said. “I think we have an awesome team. I think we’re ready to play. I look forward to every game I play, because every game I play now is a blessing.”

The No. 8 seed CU received to last spring’s NCAA Tournament might have been markedly better if not for the Buffs’ two heartbreaking losses against Utah.

In the Buffs’ first Pac-12 game at home a year ago, CU led by nine points with 10 minutes, 28 seconds left and still led 52-45 with 5:25 remaining when Utah tallied nine consecutive points to take a 54-52 lead. The Buffs drew even on a jumper by CU’s George King and subsequently posted a defensive stop, but a turnover by Josh Fortune set the stage for a driving layup by Utah’s Lorenzo Bonham with two seconds left that gave the Utes the only win by a Pac-12 foe at the Coors Events Center last season.

It was a similar disaster in the regular season finale at Utah, as 16-0 run gave the visiting Buffs a 14-point lead with 8:15 to play. However, Utah immediately answered with a 19 straight points, and the Buffs never led again in a two-point loss. It was CU’s fourth consecutive loss at Utah’s Huntsman Center.

“There’s no more small teams that we go against where we might play down to their level,” senior forward Wesley Gordon said. “If we don’t come out to play our game, we’ll lose on any given night. Hopefully we’ve gotten over that hump. Since I’ve been here I don’t think we’ve beaten Utah at Utah so I think that’s where my motivation is, just to get the win at Utah before I graduate.”

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