What went right: CU was aggressive on defense, converting 12 steals and 19 Utah turnovers into 25 points. The Buffs also dominated the paint, with a 38-18 advantage in points.
What went wrong: Not much. The Buffs were out-rebounded (33-31) and hit just 58.8 percent of their free throws (10-for-17).
Star of the game: Annika Jank. The freshman played perhaps her best game in the past two months, with 12 points, eight rebounds and two blocks.
What’s next: The Buffs will face No. 1-seeded Oregon in Friday’s Pac-12 Tournament quarterfinals, at 12:30 p.m. MT.
SEATTLE — Colorado women’s basketball coach JR Payne has often referred to Oregon coach Kelly Graves as a second father and great friend.
The two of them talk several times a week, Payne said, and when they spoke earlier this week, Graves had some words of encouragement for Payne.
“He said, ‘You guys can make a great run in the tournament,'” Payne said. “I said, ‘Kelly, you know that means we have to beat you, right?'”
The opportunity to do that is now available to Payne and the Buffaloes after they dominated Utah, 66-56, on Thursday in the first round of the Pac-12 Tournament at Key Arena.
Ninth-seeded CU (15-15) will now face top-seeded Oregon (27-4) on Friday in the quarterfinals as Payne once again faces her college coach.
“It’s going to be a really fun matchup,” Payne said.
The Buffs had some fun on Thursday, as they rolled to their first Pac-12 tournament win since 2015, leading by as many as 21 points before knocking out the Utes (17-13).
Kennedy Leonard had 15 points, a season-high eight rebounds, four assists and five steals, while freshman Annika Jank had one of her best games of the past two months.
Jank finished with 12 points, eight rebounds and two blocks. After struggling with her shot for much of Pac-12 play this year, she was 3-for-6 from 3-point range and scored in double figures for just the second time in the last 17 games.
“Once you see a basket go in, it opens up a little bit,” Jank said. “I was like, ‘Let’s go,’ and just kept shooting them.”
Down by four late in the first quarter, CU went on a 12-0 run to take a 22-14 lead after Jank’s third 3 of the game, with 8:05 to play in the second.
Utah got within 40-35 late in the third, but Jank and Leonard sparked another 12-0 that spilled into the first two minutes of fourth to help the Buffs pull away.
“The great thing is that it was defense,” Payne said. “When things got close, we defended, we dug our heels in and we got stops and they were good stops. They were stops that led to offensive opportunities.”
CU finished with 12 steals, and scored 25 points off Utah turnovers. The Buffs also held the Utes to 37.5 percent shooting. Tonaeya Boclair led Utah with 12 points.
In addition to Leonard and Jank, CU got a good performance from Seattle-area native Quinessa Caylao-Do, who had 11 points, three steals and three assists. Senior Zoe Correal had 10 points and four boards.
Now, the Buffs turn their attention to the Ducks and repeating history. In 2015, the last time the Buffs were the No. 9 seed, they beat USC in the first round and then upset No. 1 Oregon State in the quarterfinals.
“It’s going to be fun,” Leonard said. “There’s no pressure on us. They have to stop us.”
Oregon features Pac-12 player of the year Sabrina Ionescu and freshman of the year Satou Sabally. Graves was voted coach of the year by the media.
The Buffs, meanwhile, come into the game playing their best basketball of the year, having competed with several of the league’s top teams throughout the past few weeks. Oregon is the cream of the crop, however, and beat the Buffs, 77-55, on Jan. 26, in Boulder.
“They’ve got a lot of weapons, we also have a lot of weapons,” Payne said.
CU hopes its weapons are more dangerous than the Ducks’ as it looks to extend its season one more day.
“We have nothing to lose, so we can just go play our hearts out and hopefully get the win,” Jank said.
Colorado 66, Utah 56
Caylao-Do 4-11 2-3 11, Robinson 2-11 2-4 7, Leonard 7-10 1-2 15, Correal 5-6 0-0 10, Jank 4-9 1-2 12, Carter 0-1 2-2 2, Hollingshed 2-7 0-2 5, Diop 0-0 2-2 2, Knight 1-1 0-0 2, Castro 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 25-56 10-17 66..
Williams 3-13 3-3 11, Bean 2-4 0-0 4, Potter 3-10 3-4 9, Clark 2-4 2-4 8, Boclair 5-8 0-0 12, Moore 0-0 1-2 1, Huff 2-7 5-6 9, Jacobs 1-2 0-0 2, Corbin 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 18-48 14-19 56..
Score by quarters:
Colorado 13 15 18 20 — 66
Utah 14 7 14 21 — 56
3-point goals — Colorado 6-20 (Jank 3-6, Robinson 1-6, Hollingshed 1-5, Caylao-Do 1-3), Utah 6-17 (Williams 2-11, Clark 2-3, Boclair 2-2, Huff 0-1). Rebounds — Colorado 31 (Leonard, Jank 8), Utah 33 (Potter 7). Assists — Colorado 12 (Robinson 5), Utah 10 (Williams 4). Steals — Colorado 12 (Leonard 5), Utah 2 (Potter, Clark 1). Total fouls — Colorado 19, Utah 15. Fouled out — Correal, Clark.