What went right: CU’s youngsters came to play, and the Buffs had a strong second half on offense and defense. They also held a 41-30 advantage on the boards.
What went wrong: CU’s veterans struggled, and that contributed to a rough first half — offensively and defensively — that put the Buffs in a big hole.
Star of the game: McKinley Wright. The freshman point guard had 16 points, six rebounds and three assists.
What’s next: The Buffs will face Arizona State on Wednesday in the first round of the Pac-12 Tournament in Las Vegas.
Colorado men’s basketball coach Tad Boyle has been waiting almost all season to see his Buffaloes play on the road like they did for the final 20 minutes on Saturday.
“The effort and the toughness and the energy we played with was good enough,” Boyle said. “I love that Colorado team.”
He’s not so fond of the Colorado team that played the first half, however.
Despite CU’s furious second-half rally, the Buffs were unable to overcome a dismal first half in a 64-54 loss to host Utah in the regular season finale at the Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City.
The Buffs (16-14, 8-10 Pac-12) will go into next week’s conference tournament as the No. 8 seed and will face No. 9 Arizona State (20-10, 8-10) in the first round Wednesday at 1 p.m. MT at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
Utah (19-10, 11-7) secured the No. 3 seed and a first-round bye with the victory against the Buffs.
“We were so inept and so poor in the last part of the first half,” Boyle said. “We weren’t very good offensively or defensively and the problem is we let our frustrations on offense bleed over to defense, which when you’re not mentally tough, that’s what happens.
“The first half is where we lost that game, there’s no doubt about it.”
Freshman McKinley Wright scored 12 of his team-high 16 points after halftime to lead a rally, but it wasn’t enough as the Buffs fell to 1-10 in true road games.
CU went 1-for-13 from the floor in the final 6 minutes of the first half, while Utah went on a 16-3 run to take a 41-24 lead into intermission. The Utes led by as many as 18 points. CU has rallied from that big of a deficit to win a game just six times in program history.
“That’s happened a couple times this year where we put ourselves in a deep hole and try to dig our way out and unfortunately it didn’t work tonight,” Wright said. “We have to come out of games with a lot better energy in order for us to get wins on the road.”
That energy was certainly there in the second half.
Despite the big deficit, Wright and his fellow freshmen led a huge rally after intermission.
Wright scored the first four points of the second half and then Lucas Siewert and D’Shawn Schwartz sparked a 12-0 run that pulled the Buffs within 46-42 with 9:27 to play.
“We just needed to play with a lot more energy and toughness than we had in the first half,” Wright said. “In the second half we showed a lot of fight and a lot of effort. We had a chance to get it to two or tie the game up, but unfortunately we had some turnovers and missed rebounds and stuff like that really hurt us.”
After getting within four, CU had three turnovers, two missed shots and two missed free throws on its next six possessions, while Utah went on a 5-0 run to get the lead back to nine.
The Utes’ Justin Bibbins, who had a game-high 24 points, then hit a pair of dagger 3s in the final minutes.
“We just couldn’t get over the hump, but it wasn’t because our guys weren’t trying and weren’t playing with great effort,” Boyle said. “We didn’t execute well enough tonight offensively, certainly late in the first half and down the stretch when we did cut it to four.
“That’s what you have to do this time of year. If you’re going to beat a good team on the road you have to do those things and we didn’t do it.”
The Buffs also needed more from their upperclassmen.
Three upperclassmen — seniors Dominique Collier and George King and junior Namon Wright — played against the Utes. They all rank among CU’s top four scorers, but combined for six points — all by King — on 2-for-17 shooting in 57 minutes against Utah.
“For us to be at our best, we need those guys to play well,” Boyle said. “When we’ve been at our best, when we’ve won games, when we’ve had good things happen to us, it’s a team effort. We weren’t able to overcome that tonight.
“Our young guys came to play tonight and they were good enough tonight, but we just weren’t good enough as a team to get over the hump. We (rallied) with four freshmen and a sophomore on the floor. That’s when we made our run. We may have run out of a little juice there, but there’s a lot of things we can build upon.”
UTAH 64, COLORADO 54
COLORADO (16-14, 8-10)
Walton 3-8 1-2 7, Collier 0-4 0-0 0, M.Wright 7-11 2-2 16, G.King 2-7 0-0 6, Bey 3-6 2-2 8, Siewert 5-10 0-1 11, N.Wright 0-6 0-0 0, Nikolic 0-2 0-2 0, Schwartz 2-6 2-2 6. Totals 22-60 7-11 54.
UTAH (19-10, 11-7)
Rawson 1-8 2-2 5, Collette 2-3 0-0 4, Bibbins 7-15 4-7 24, Van Dyke 0-2 0-0 0, Bealer 1-3 0-0 3, Tillman 3-4 4-6 10, Seeley 1-1 0-1 2, Johnson 1-2 0-0 2, Caldwell 0-0 0-0 0, Barefield 2-7 10-10 14, Connor 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 18-45 20-26 64.
Halftime — Utah 41-24. 3-point goals — Colorado 3-18 (G.King 2-5, Siewert 1-3, Collier 0-1, Nikolic 0-1, Schwartz 0-2, N.Wright 0-2, M.Wright 0-4), Utah 8-20 (Bibbins 6-11, Bealer 1-3, Rawson 1-4, Barefield 0-2). Fouled out — None. Rebounds — Colorado 37 (G.King 8), Utah 25 (Rawson 7). Assists — Colorado 5 (M.Wright 3), Utah 11 (Van Dyke 4). Total fouls — Colorado 24, Utah 15.