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Utah’s Huntsman Center a house of horrors for CU Buffs basketball

Colorado's Evan Battey and the Buffs face off with Utah on Sunday at Huntsman Center where the Buffs have lost six straight.
Jeremy Papasso / Staff Photographer
Colorado’s Evan Battey and the Buffs face off with Utah on Sunday at Huntsman Center where the Buffs have lost six straight.

CU men’s basketball preview: Utah Utes

TIPOFF: Sunday, 4 p.m. MT, Huntsman Center, Salt Lake City, Utah.

BROADCAST: TV — ESPNU; Radio — 850 AM.

RECORDS: Colorado 10-6, 1-3 Pac-12 Conference; Utah 8-8, 2-2.

COACHES: Colorado — Tad Boyle, 9th season (176-116, 232-182 overall); Utah — Larry Krystkowiak, 8th year (146-105, 188-125 overall).

KEY PLAYERS: Colorado — G McKinley Wright, So., 12.9 ppg, 5.3 apg, 4.9 rpg; F Tyler Bey, Jr., 12.0 ppg, 9.1 rpg; F Lucas Siewert, Jr., 11.4 ppg, 5.0 rpg. Utah — G Sedrick Barefield, Sr., 15.4 ppg, 3.8 apg; F Donnie Tillman, So., 11.3 ppg, 5.8 rpg; F Timmy Allen, Fr., 9.9 ppg, 4.3 rpg.

NOTES: In addition to six consecutive losses at the Huntsman Center, CU has lost eight of its past nine matchups overall against Utah…The Buffs held Barefield to a 2-for-7 mark in last year’s loss at Utah, but he went 10-for-10 at the free throw line and still finished with 14 points…CU sophomore D’Shawn Schwartz has averaged a team-best 14 points in the Buffs’ four Pac-12 games, shooting .515 overall while going 7-for-15 on 3-pointers…CU forward Evan Battey has shot .526 (10-for-19) in the Buffs’ four Pac-12 games…The Buffs remain on the road next week with games Thursday at Cal (9 p.m. MT, Pac-12 Network) and Saturday at Stanford (6 p.m., FS1).

Like most coaches, Tad Boyle doesn’t care to dive too deeply into rivalry streaks.

It’s a sound practice, as the results of a game played five years earlier has absolutely no bearing on a pending matchup. Yet in the case of the recent history of Colorado basketball at Utah, it’s probably best that Boyle ignores the history. The story hasn’t been pretty.

The Buffaloes haven’t won at Utah’s Huntsman Center since the 2011-12 season, when both programs were newcomers to the Pac-12 Conference. CU has suffered six consecutive losses at Utah since, a run a futility Boyle’s club hopes to finally end Sunday afternoon.

“We’ve played well there and not won. We’ve played poorly there and got blown out,” Boyle said. “We haven’t come up on the winning end. I don’t even know what our record is over there. We’ve lost more than we’ve won, that’s for darn sure. It’s a matter of playing the type of basketball that takes their crowd out of the game. And the way you do that on the road is you take care of the ball and defend at a high, high level. When you do that, you can take their crowd out of it. When you don’t do that, they get things rolling and start making threes and get out in transition.

“I don’t look at streaks. Because every team is different. This year’s team is different than last year’s team. And their team is different. But it’s a tough place to play.”

While the teams indeed may have been different, the Buffs’ six-game losing streak at the Huntsman Center has been marked by familiar shortcomings.

The Buffs have averaged 14.3 turnovers per game during the six-game road losing streak at Utah, coughing the ball up whether Spencer Dinwiddie or Derrick White or McKinley Wright is running the offense.

The streak began in 2013 when the Buffs rallied from 22 points down in the second half to get within one point on a late Dinwiddie jumper. Utah, however, held off CU down the stretch. In 2016, CU led by 14 points with under eight minutes to go, only to watch the Utes reel off a 26-10 run the rest of the way to rally for the win. The past two seasons have witnessed more of the same, with CU committing 15 turnovers in a loss at Utah in 2016 before going 3-for-18 on 3-pointers in 2017.

“I think we’ve shown in our last few games, we can really guard if we want to guard,” forward Evan Battey said. “I think that’s going to be big for us, guarding the whole game. Latching down for two halves, all 40 minutes, is key.”

CU might get back the services of Wright, who is trying to return from a shoulder injury and who enjoyed a 7-for-11, 16-point game at Utah last year. A comeback by Wright might be even more crucial at the defensive end, as the Buffs aim to slow Utah’s top duo of guard Sedrick Barefield and forward Donnie Tillman. Barefield recently lit it up during a three-game run against nationally-ranked Nevada, Arizona, and Arizona State, averaging 27.7 points while shooting 60 percent. However, he cooled off considerably in last week’s home split against Washington and Washington State, going 5-for-18 with a total of 16 points.

“Sedrick Barefield is a guy who can go off in any given half or game,” Boyle said. “He is an explosive, dynamic scorer who is a very, very talented offensive player. Donnie Tillman has added to his game, and in my mind is one of the most improved players in the league.”

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