Buffs Fall As Utah Rallies In Second Half
BOULDER — Colorado allowed a 19-point lead to disappear in a five-minute second-half stretch Saturday and the Buffaloes dropped a critical 77-74 decision to Utah at the CU Events Center.
CU fell to 13-5 overall and 7-4 in the Pac-12 while Utah improved to 7-7, 4-6.
McKinley Wright IV led Colorado with 15 points and Jeriah Horne chipped in 10 for the Buffs.
But CU had no answer on the defensive end for Utah's Alfonso Plummer, who finished with 23 points, all in the second half, as Utah outscored Colorado 31-9 down the stretch.
The Buffs had a seven-point lead at the half, 43-36, and appeared to be in complete control when they extended the cushion to 19, 65-46, with just under nine minutes to play. But the Utes then put together a 26-4 run that produced a 70-69 lead with 3:24 to play and a three-point edge, 72-69, a minute later.
Colorado managed to tie it up at 72-72 with 1:22 to go, but the Utes put the game away in the final minute.
Utah shot 52% from the floor in the second half (16-for-31) while the Buffs were just 13-for-30. CU also lost the rebound battle, 31-30, and the Utes were 16-for-19 from the free throw line while the Buffs attempted just six free throws and made five.
It was the third time in the last four games that the Buffs have had trouble closing out second-half leads. They lost at Washington two weeks ago and managed to hold off a Washington State rally earlier this week.
But their inability to close hurt them in a big way Saturday.
"I'm not sure I've ever been more disappointed in a loss in my career," CU coach Tad Boyle said. "To have a game in hand like that and not finish it … It's not like we didn't talk about the way they could get back in the game. At some point you have to stop talking about things and you have to do them."
HOW IT HAPPENED: After a solid first half in which the Buffs hit 10 3-pointers, CU led by seven, 43-36.
With 8:46 to play in the game, CU had built its cushion to 19 on a pair of Wright free throws and looked ready to put the game away.
"We talked about two ways they can get back in this game," Boyle said of the discussion in the huddle at the eight-minute timeout and Colorado holding a 17-point lead. "No. 1 is if we foul them and put them at the foul line. No. 2 is if they get hot from three. They did both."
Indeed, when Plummer got hot, CU had no answer. The Utah guard scored 21 of his 23 second-half points in the final eight minutes, beginning with back-to-back 3-pointers. At the same time, the Buffs couldn't buy a bucket on the offensive end, going nearly five minutes without a basket while Utah scored 13 straight points.
Evan Battey finally ended the drought with a basket at the 4:32 mark to give CU a 69-64 lead, but the Buffs didn't score again for the next three minutes, allowing Utah to finally take the lead. A Plummer 3-pointer and free throw gave the Utes a 70-69 edge at the 3:24 mark and another Plummer bucket a minute later boosted the margin to 72-69.
"It's not finishing," Boyle said. "It's finishing possessions on defense just as much as it is finishing possessions on offense. Finishing on offense means we have to put the ball in the hole. We missed some bunnies and we didn't put foul pressure on them. We couldn't get to the foul line. The whistle wasn't there. We have to put the ball in the hole."
Colorado did manage to tie the game again at 72-72 with 1:22 to play on a Wright 3-pointer, but could not come up with a defensive stop. The Utes answered with back-to-back baskets sandwiched around a CU miss and Plummer's 23rd point of the half gave the Utes a 76-72 lead with 13.8 on the clock. Wright added one more CU basket with nine seconds remaining but Timmy Allen knocked down a free throw with six seconds left and a last-second Wright 3-point attempt was blocked to give Utah the win.
"We've got to finish," Horne said. "We have to figure out how to close out games."
Utah shot 51 percent from the floor in the second half and was 15-for-17 from the free throw line for the game. Colorado attempted just six free throws the entire game and made five.
Colorado actually controlled the tempo for much of the game. After falling behind 6-0 in the first two minutes, the Buffs responded with an 11-0 run to take the lead. The Buffs led by as much as 10 with just under six minutes to play in the half before Utah cut the margin to two, 32-30, with a 10-2 surge.
But the Buffs righted themselves down the stretch to take a 43-36 lead into intermission, getting a pair of Maddox Daniels 3-pointers and an Evan Battey three-point play in the final three minutes.
CU shot 48% from the floor in the first half, including a red-hot 10-for-17 from 3-point range, and the Buffs had 11 assists on 15 baskets.
The Utes stayed in the game by getting to the free throw line, hitting 12 of 14 attempts from the stripe while Colorado — the nation's leading free throw shooting team — was 3-for-4 on free throws in the first half.
TURNING POINT: When CU's Wright hit two free throws with 8:46 to play to give Colorado a 19-point lead, it seemed the Buffs were well on their way to a home win. But the Utes put together an 18-2 run over the next four minutes that included a 13-0 surge to seize momentum and the Buffs never recovered.
WHAT IT MEANS: The loss no doubt throws a kink into CU's conference title hopes. The Buffs are now closer to the middle of the pack than the top of the Pac-12 standings, and the remaining three games of their current homestand become even more critical.
KEY STATISTICS: CU allowed Utah's Alonso Plummer to score 23 points in the second half, including 21 in the final eight minutes … Utah shot 52 percent from the floor in the second half, including 5-for-11 from 3-point range … The Utes shot 19 free throws and made 16 while the Buffs attempted only six and made five.
NEXT UP: The Buffs continue their current five-game homestand next week with three games in five days, beginning with a 9 p.m. game Thursday against Arizona State (ESPN2 or ESPNU). That will be followed by a 6 p.m. game Saturday against Arizona (FS1) and a 5 p.m. game Monday, Feb. 8, against Oregon State (Pac-12 Networks).