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Stretch run begins with key Utah matchup for CU Buffs men’s basketball

Buffs look to gain momentum ahead of road trip

University of Colorado Boulder's Keeshawn Barthelemy ...
Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer
University of Colorado Boulder’s Keeshawn Barthelemy gets past Oregon State’s Jarod Lucas during the Pac-12 game in Boulder on Feb. 5, 2022.

It would have been a long week if Colorado had not gotten back on track against Oregon State.

It will be a rough prelude to a demanding road trip next week if the Buffaloes can’t maintain their newfound momentum against Utah.

Given a chance to regroup this week with the lone matchup against the Utes, the Buffs have tried to make the most of an opportunity to adjust after a rash of injuries put a swift, and permanent, dent into the rotation. They shook off an ugly three-game losing streak to get back in the win column last week against Oregon State, and Utah, 11th in the Pac-12 Conference with a 2-12 league mark, presents another opportunity for the Buffs to rebuild their confidence ahead of a three-game road trip.

The Utes, however, have been far more competitive than that record might indicate, with a number of narrow losses in recent weeks against a few of the hotter Pac-12 teams. CU head coach Tad Boyle isn’t expecting to see a 2-12 team on display at the Events Center on Saturday.

“Utah is a team that has been in a lot of games,” Boyle said. “They have not lost their fight. They have not lost their energy. You watch them on film, they keep coming. We’re going to have to beat Utah. They’re really solid. They’re better than their record, there’s no doubt about it. I know that. I think they know that. I think anybody that plays against them knows that. It’s an important game for us.”

Utah ended a 10-game losing streak last week by topping struggling Oregon State at home. Several of those games easily could have tilted toward the Utes.

Twice Utah dropped close games against Washington, losing by six at home and by four in double overtime in Seattle. At home, Utah lost by five against UCLA and three last week against Oregon. The Utes also fell short in a two-point heartbreaker at Arizona State.

The Buffs’ offense broke out in last week’s home win against Oregon State and, statistically, the Utes should offer another opportunity for CU to enjoy a good night offensively. Against OSU, the Buffs recorded season-highs in shooting percentage (.571), field goals (32) and 3-pointers (14). In Pac-12 games, Utah enters Saturday’s game ranked 11th in the conference in defensive field goal percentage (.457), defensive 3-point percentage (.360), and average points allowed (74.6).

Utah has shown flashes of improvement defensively in recent weeks, such as the .383 UCLA managed against the Utes on Jan. 20, but last week Oregon torched Utah for a 13-for-26 mark on 3-pointers last week.

“They’re getting better defensively. They’ve got some tough players,” Boyle said. “They’re not one of the better defensive teams in the league, but they’re getting better defensively. The reality is, we have to make shots. Even against a bad defense, you’ve got to make shots. I’m not saying they’re a bad defense, but we were able to make shots against Oregon State. It makes the game a lot easier.

“Offensively…we need to take a step in the same direction as we did against Oregon State. Defensively, we’ve got to lock these guys up.”

Utah Utes at CU Buffs men’s basketball

TIPOFF: Saturday, 6 p.m., CU Events Center.

BROADCAST: TV — Pac-12 Network; Radio — 850 AM and 94.1 FM.

RECORDS: Utah 9-15, 2-12 Pac-12 Conference; Colorado 14-9, 6-7.

COACHES: Craig Smith — 1st season (9-15, 162-94 overall); Colorado — Tad Boyle, 12th season (247-152, 303-218 overall).

KEY PLAYERS: Utah — C Branden Carlson, Jr., 13.2 ppg, 6.4 rpg, .525 field goal percentage; G Both Gach, Sr., 9.7 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 2.6 apg; G David Jenkins, Sr., 9.2 ppg, .400 3-point percentage; G Marco Anthony, Sr., 8.6 ppg, 7.4 rpg. Colorado — F Jabari Walker, So., 13.7 ppg, 8.8 rpg; F Evan Battey, R-Sr., 11.3 ppg, 4.5 rpg; G Keeshawn Barthelemy, R-So., 11.2 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 2.5 apg; Tristan da Silva, So., 9.0 ppg, 3.6 rpg,

NOTES: It was a busy day for former CU stars at the NBA trade deadline. On Thursday, former Buffs guards Derrick White and Spencer Dinwiddie found new homes, with White getting traded from San Antonio to Boston while Dinwiddie was shipped from Washington to the Dallas Mavericks…The Buffs had won three consecutive home games against the Utes before wasting a 19-point lead in a stunning home loss last year…CU freshman KJ Simpson leads the Buffs with 2.8 assists per game. He has averaged 2.9 during conference play…Barthelemy has gone 8-for-15 on 3-pointers in his past three home games…The matchup features the top two free throw shooting teams in Pac-12 play in the Utes (.808) and CU (.748)…CU hits the road for three games in five days, beginning with a Tuesday makeup date at Oregon State (7 p.m., Pac-12 Network).