It certainly didn’t unfold they way the Colorado Buffaloes would have preferred.
Yet at this point of the season any league victory, particularly in another hard-fought, comeback decision, is one the Buffaloes gladly will take.
CU trailed for much of the contest on Saturday but made the plays down the stretch when necessary, surging past Utah to post an 81-76 victory at the CU Events Center.
It was CU’s second consecutive win and gives the Buffs a small dose of momentum going into a three-game road trip that begins Tuesday at Oregon State.
“Hard-fought win for us,” said CU head coach Tad Boyle, who coached his 400th game with the Buffs. “It wasn’t easy. We didn’t play our best basketball. We ran into a Utah team, and I talked about it earlier this week, they’re better than their record indicates. They have not lost their fight. They’re well-coached. They’ve got good players. And we found a way to win tonight.”
Behind a torrid start from 7-foot Branden Carlson, Utah scored the game’s first eight points and pushed its lead to 11 points in the first half. CU used a pair of Evan Battey 3-pointers and a late 8-1 run to help cut the deficit to 36-33 at halftime.
Utah, however, found another hot hand immediately after the break, as three quick 3-pointers from Gabe Madsen sparked a 13-5 Utes run that pushed the Utah lead back to 11.
The Buffs steadily chipped away but the Utes still led by 10 when the Buffs reeled off a 10-2 run, a burst highlighted by a huge hustle play from Nique Clifford, who saved an offensive rebound along the baseline under the CU basket before sneaking into the corner for a wide-open 3-pointer.
The Buffs finally took their first lead on a pair of free throws from Jabari Walker with 4 minutes, 30 seconds remaining. Utah briefly recaptured the lead but Walker scored CU’s next nine points, including the next seven in a row. His 3-point play with 1:48 to go gave CU a six-point edge, and CU was able to use another standout game at the free throw line (24-for-29) to hold on down the stretch.
“Defensively, I tried to stay solid and make them shoot over my length,” Walker said. “I was playing a little handsy at first and picked up a couple unnecessary fouls. And then just trying to knock down shots, catching every ball that was thrown to me and put it in the basket.”
Walker battled through foul trouble throughout the night, but led five players in double figures with his third consecutive double-double, 12th of the season, and 14th of his career, finishing with 22 points and 13 rebounds. CU’s 24 made free throws tied for the second-highest total of the season and was the Buffs’ top mark since making 24 against New Mexico in the second game of the season. Walker led that effort by going 9-for-9.
Senior forward Evan Battey scored 16 points while Keeshawn Barthelemy and Tristan da Silva added 14 apiece. Da Silva enjoyed another strong all-around game, going 7-for-7 on free throws while also adding four rebounds and four assists.
After committing nine turnovers in the first half, CU recorded just five more after halftime. CU topped the 50 percent mark from the field for the second consecutive game (.510) and held the Utes to an 8-for-25 mark on 3-pointers. The Buffs went 7-for-16 from the arc and outrebounded the Utes 38-31.
Carlson recorded a career-high 25 points for the Utes, but he scored just four in the second half.
“In the second half we started to lock in and think more of a team defensive mindset,” Battey said. “It allowed us to get out and run.”
What went right: CU shot .510 overall, its second consecutive game over 50 percent, and went 7-for-16 on 3-pointers. The Buffs also were 24-for-29 at the free throw line and outrebounded the Utes 38-31.
What went wrong: CU committed nine turnovers in the first half, leading to a 10-2 edge at halftime for the Utes in points off turnovers. That final margin was 15-2, although the Buffs recorded just five turnovers after halftime.
Star of the game: Jabari Walker. Despite battling foul trouble, the sophomore forward posted his third consecutive double-double and 12th of the season with 22 points and 13 rebounds. Walker was 6-for-1- from the field and 9-for-9 at the free throw line.
What’s next: The Buffs begin a three-game road trip on Tuesday at Oregon State (7 p.m. MT, Pac-12 Network).
Colorado 81, Utah 76
UTAH (9-16, 2-13 Pac-12)
Carlson 11-19 1-2 25, Anthony 6-12 3-6 15, Madsen 4-12 2-2 14, Stefanovic 2-5 2-3 6, Worster 5-10 1-2 12, Gach 0-3 0-0 0, Jenkins 1-5 0-0 3, Brenchley 0-0 1-4 1, Battin 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 29-66 10-19 76.
COLORADO (15-9, 7-7 Pac-12)
Battey 6-14 2-2 16, Walker 6-10 9-9 22, da Silva 3-5 7-7 14, Barthelemy 4-10 5-8 14, Clifford 4-4 0-0 10, Simpson 2-5 1-2 5, O’Brien 0-0 0-0 0, Hammond 0-1 0-1 0. Totals 25-49 24-29 81.
Halftime – Utah 36-33. 3-Point Goals – Utah 8-25 (Madsen 4-11, Carlson 2-4, Jenkins 1-3, Worster 1-3, Gach 0-2, Stefanovic 0-2), Colorado 7-16 (Clifford 2-2, Battey 2-4, da Silva 1-1, Walker 1-2, Barthelemy 1-5, Simpson 0-2). Fouled Out – Worster. Rebounds – Utah 27 (Anthony 12), Colorado 37 (Walker 13). Assists – Utah 12 (Anthony 6), Colorado 13 (da Silva, Simpson 4). Total Fouls – Utah 24, Colorado 19. A – 7,988.