SALT LAKE CITY — Colorado’s habit of being unable to finish games prevented the Buffaloes from competing for a Pac-12 Conference regular-season championship. On Saturday, it cost them a chance at landing a first-round bye next week at the league tournament.
And this one was particularly heartbreaking.
McKinley Wright IV was called for a foul on a desperation 3-point attempt by Utah’s Both Gach just before the buzzer in overtime, giving Gach three free throw attempts with CU clinging to a 72-71 lead. With 0.6 seconds on the clock, Gach converted all three to give the Utes a 74-72 victory in the regular season finale at the Huntsman Center.
The loss was the fourth in a row for the Buffs, marking the program’s longest losing streak since CU began the Pac-12 schedule with seven straight losses during the 2016-17 season. It also dropped the Buffs out of the league’s top four, meaning CU will play its first-round game in Las Vegas on Wednesday.
“Unbelievable. To bail somebody out on a fade-away three, falling away, no chance of going in,” said CU forward Evan Battey. “We shouldn’t have been in that situation. We should have been up 20.”
Depending on the results around the league Saturday night, the Buffs will be seeded anywhere from fifth to seventh. Immediately after the Buffs’ stunning loss there remained fleeing hope CU could still sneak into the top four, but when USC’s win against UCLA became official shortly thereafter, those hopes were dashed.
Utah scored the first four points in overtime but CU stormed back, scoring the next six points and regaining the lead on a steal and breakaway dunk by Tyler Bey. Utah’s Alfonso Plummer and Wright traded baskets, putting the Buffs in position to clinch the win on defense or ice it at the free throw line. CU did neither.
With 9.1 seconds remaining, Utah’s Timmy Allen knocked down one free throw to cut CU’s lead to 72-71. Wright was fouled almost immediately, but missed the front end of his one-and-one free throw opportunity. The Utes didn’t take a timeout, setting up the controversial finish with the foul on Wright called right in front of the Utah bench.
“We tell our post guys all the time down low when you fade away from the basket, you’re not going to get a call,” CU head coach Tad Boyle said. “Even if you get hit on the arm, you’re not going to get it. It happened to Tyler against UCLA. It happened to Tyler tonight on the base line. He’s fading away and he shoots an air ball. Tyler Bey doesn’t shoot air balls, but you’re not going to get the call when you’re fading away.
“The one thing I do know is that Both Gach was fading away from three and he got the call. You’ve got to live with it.”
While the finish will be the lingering image from the Buffs’ latest disappointment, CU had ample opportunity to put the Utes away well before overtime. Yet like the home losses against Oregon State and UCLA, as well as the road loss at Oregon, the Buffs couldn’t put away a foe they had in control.
CU led by eight points at halftime but allowed the Utes to reel off a 7-0 run immediately after the break. The Buffs used a 9-0 run to rebuild their lead to 55-47 with less than 10 minutes remaining and still led by four with four and a half minutes to play, but CU still was unable to hold off the Utes.
“My whole team was shocked. I literally stood there, straight-up, and let him shoot the ball,” Wright said of the game’s final play. “He was fading away, so I didn’t want to jump and contest it. I stood there with my hand up and the ref blew his whistle for whatever reason.
“It’s terrible to end a game like that. Especially on the road. We worked so hard to get back to this point, to make history at this school and get a bye at the tournament. To end it on that is just bad.”
Utah 74, Colorado 72, OT
COLORADO (21-10, 10-8 Pac-12)
Battey 6-7 3-3 15, Gatling 1-4 0-0 3, Wright 8-17 2-3 20, Bey 6-9 4-6 16, Schwartz 1-9 0-0 2, Parquet 3-8 0-0 8, Daniels 3-7 0-0 8, Siewert 0-3 0-0 0, Kountz 0-0 0-0 0, Strating 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 28-64 9-12 72.
UTAH (16-14, 7-11)
Allen 3-13 4-6 10, Carlson 2-7 0-0 4, Gach 9-15 8-9 28, Jantunen 3-6 2-2 8, Plummer 7-14 2-2 21, Battin 1-5 0-0 3, Brenchley 0-3 0-0 0, Thioune 0-0 0-0 0, Haddock 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 25-63 16-19 74.
Halftime — Colorado 41-33. 3-point goals — Colorado 7-28 (Daniels 2-6, Parquet 2-6, Wright 2-7, Gatling 1-3, Siewert 0-1, Schwartz 0-5), Utah 8-24 (Plummer 5-11, Gach 2-6, Battin 1-5, Brenchley 0-2). Fouled out — Carlson. Rebounds — Colorado 34 (Bey 10), Utah 35 (Jantunen 11). Assists — Colorado 17 (Wright 6), Utah 14 (Gach 4). Total fouls — Colorado 13, Utah 13. A — 10,886 (15,000).