SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Utah didn’t let a week off between games go to waste. The Utes used their extra practice time to put additional emphasis on having active hands and active feet on defense. All of that increased focus paid off big time against Colorado.
The Utes beat the Buffaloes 78-69 on Sunday night after smothering Colorado’s offense for a large portion of the game. Utah crashed the boards, grabbed steals, and stampeded the Buffaloes for one transition basket after another.
“We just came out and played hard,” sophomore forward Donnie Tillman said. “We want dunks. We want to do all this nice stuff. We just got to make it happen. That’s the main thing it boiled down to.”
The Utes tallied nine steals and three blocked shots before halftime. They scored 14 points off turnovers and held Colorado to 9-of-30 (.300) shooting from the floor and the Buffaloes went scoreless for a stretch of nearly six minutes at one point in the first half.
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“That ball game was lost in the first half,” Colorado coach Tad Boyle said. “The lack of consistency makes it really difficult for me and my staff to coach and figure out this team.”
Timmy Allen had 21 points and 10 rebounds for his first career double-double and Sedrick Barefield added 22 points. Tillman chipped in 11 points off the bench for the Utes.
Utah (9-8, 3-2 Pac-12) has won seven straight at home, and nine of its last 10 overall, against Colorado.
Shane Gatling scored 21 points to lead the Buffaloes. Daylen Kountz and Lucas Siewert added 13 points apiece. Colorado (10-7, 1-4 Pac-12) shot just 41 percent and lost for the sixth time in eight games.
McKinley Wright IV, Colorado’s starting point guard, did not play after suffering a left shoulder injury in the first half of the Buffaloes’ 77-70 loss to Washington on January 12th. Namon Wright returned to the lineup after missing three games with a foot injury.
Colorado committed seven turnovers in a span of two minutes, 47 seconds during a 25-4 run that gave the Utes a 34-11 lead with 5:49 left in the first half.
At one point during the run, Both Gach and Allen three down dunks following steals on three straight possessions. Utah had a 17-2 advantage in fast-break points in the first half, largely because the Utes made an extra effort to disrupt passing lanes.
“I thought our guys smelled a little bit of blood and that paid dividends,” Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak said.
Colorado cut Utah’s lead to 70-60 with 3:28 left on three straight baskets from Kountz and Gatling. It was part of a run of five straight field goals for the Buffaloes.
Gach drained a 3-pointer to keep Colorado from trimming the deficit to single digits. Allen added another jumper a minute later to push Utah’s lead to 76-62 with 2:01 remaining.
Filling a stat sheet has been Allen’s trademark all season and he keeps getting better at finding ways to do it. The freshman forward is averaging 14.2 points, 7.0 rebounds, 3.4 assists, and 1.6 steals for Utah in Pac-12 play.
Allen registered a career-high in points against Colorado, one week after getting a career-high in rebounds against Washington. He also dished out four assists and grabbed three steals in 32 minutes.
BATTLE OF THE BOARDS
Utah edged Colorado on the glass 38-37. The Buffaloes came into the game averaging 37.8 rebounds with a plus-5.7 rebound margin, ranking fourth in the Pac-12 in both categories.
“Maybe it was my fault, I thought I told my guys that the game started at four today. They thought it started at 5:30.” – Boyle on Colorado’s sluggish first half play.
THE BIG PICTURE
Colorado: Playing without Wright effectively short circuited the Buffaloes’ offense. Colorado struggled to adapt to Utah’s defensive pressure and committed a flurry of early turnovers to fuel a blowout win for the Utes. Getting Wright healthy and back in the lineup will be critical if the Buffaloes want to get on track in Pac-12 play.
Utah: The Utes charged into the ring on defense and never let their Rocky Mountain rival off the ropes until the closing minutes. It really opened things up for Utah on the other end. The Utes got several easy baskets in transition and were able to get plenty of early 3-pointers. It bodes well for Utah to keep climbing upward in the Pac-12.
Colorado visits California on Thursday.
Utah visits Stanford on Thursday.
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