Buffs Rally To Sink Utah At Home
BOULDER — Colorado's Jabari Walker recorded his 12th double-double of the season Saturday, helping fuel a big second-half comeback as the Buffaloes rallied to take an 81-76 win over Utah at the CU Events Center.
Tad Boyle's Buffs won their second in a row to improve to 15-9 overall and 7-7 in Pac-12 play. The Utes lost for the 12th time in their last 13 games to fall to 9-16, 2-13.
Walker finished with 22 points and 13 rebounds for his Pac-12-leading 12th double-double and third in a row. Evan Battey added 16 points, Tristan da Silva and Keeshawn Barthelemy each scored 14 and Nique Clifford had 10.
Brendan Carlsen led Utah with 25, with 21 coming in the first half.
The Buffs trailed by as much as 11 in the second half before staging their rally. Walker had 14 of his 22 points in the final 6:25 of the game, all after being whistled for his fourth foul.
Colorado shot 51 percent from the floor (25-for-49) and also hit 24 of 29 free throw tries. The Utes finished 29-for-66 from the floor, but the Pac-12's leading free throw team hit just 10 of its 19 attempts from the stripe.
Colorado also committed 14 turnovers that led to 15 Utah points.
"Utah is better than their record," Boyle said. "That was a hard-fought win. We didn't play our best basketball, but down the stretch we made plays. We found a way to win, but we're going to have to get better."
HOW IT HAPPENED: The Buffs closed an 11-point first-half deficit to three by intermission, but the Utes built the edge back to 11, 49-38, early in the second half after back-to-back 3-pointers.
But Colorado rallied again and chipped away at the lead. A Clifford 3-pointer off an assist from Battey — coming after Clifford dived to save a loose ball from going out of bounds — pulled Colorado to within five at the 9:41 mark and a Barthelemy trey two minutes later closed the gap to two, 61-59.
"Those were big plays," Boyle said. "We made hustle plays and we executed when we had to."
Walker, who had been whistled for his fourth foul with 13:41 still to play, re-entered soon after Barthelemy's 3-pointer and took control.
The CU sophomore drained a 3-pointer to pull CU within one, then gave CU its first lead of the game, 66-65, with a pair of free throws at the 4:30 mark.
Utah momentarily regained the lead before Walker went on a personal 7-0 run. He knocked down a shot off the glass, went inside for another bucket and then muscled his way to a three-point play at the rim to give Colorado its biggest cushion of the game, 73-67, with 1:48 to play.
Walker then added two more free throws with 1:10 remaining, giving him 11 straight points for the Buffs and a 75-69 Colorado lead. Walker scored 14 points, grabbed three rebounds and recorded two steals in the final 6:25 of the game — all with four fouls.
"It's stressful when you're on the bench with fouls," Walker said. "You try to cheer the guys on, but you want to be out there. When I got back out there, I just tried to pick up the intensity."
The Buffs then held the Utes off in the final minute for the win, hitting eight free throws in the final 1:10.
"We dodged a bullet with Utah not making their free throws," Boyle said. "We made ours. If you're aggressive, you're going to get to the foul line and we did that in the second half."
The Buffs started slowly and never really found their rhythm in the first half — something Utah's Carlson had no trouble doing.
The Utah big man scored the first six points of the game as Utah jumped out to an 8-0 lead, and CU's deficit hit as much as 11 after a pair of Carlson 3-pointers gave the Utes a 25-14 lead with 8:17 to play in the half.
Carlson finished the half with a career-high 21 points, but the Buffs did manage to chip away at the lead. Colorado outscored the Utes 15-7 over the last five minutes of the half to pull within three, 36-33, at intermission.
Walker also fueled the late first-half surge, returning to the game with two fouls and scoring four quick points. Battey added a 3-pointer in the final minute and Nique Clifford closed the half with an alley-oop dunk off a pass from Keeshawn Barthelemy to pull the Buffs within three at the buzzer.
The Buffs once again were hounded by turnovers, committing nine in the first half that led to 10 Utah points.
TURNING POINT: Just after Utah built a 10-point lead midway through the second half, the Buffs scored five in a row, with a Clifford 3-pointer cutting CU's deficit to five, 59-54. That got the Events Center crowd back into the game and momentum was on Colorado's side from that point on as the Buffs continued to chip away and finally take the lead.
WHAT IT MEANS: CU's second win in a row should give the Buffs some much-needed momentum as they head out on a three-game road trip. The Buffs play four of their final six regular season games away from home. The short-handed Buffs — they are missing four scholarship players because of injury – need some wins on the road to keep their postseason hopes alive.
KEY STATISTICS: Colorado shot 51 percent from the floor (25-for-49) … The Buffs hit 24 of 29 free throw tries … The Utes, the Pac-12's leading free throw team, hit just 10 of their 19 attempts from the stripe … CU had a 38-31 edge on the board and had 12 second-chance points.
QUOTEWORTHY: "Tonight we figured out a way to win. We've done that again and again this year. But we have to figure out a way to get better if we're going to give ourselves a chance on the road next week." — CU head coach Tad Boyle.
NEXT UP: The Buffs hit the road next week for three conference games, beginning with a 7 p.m. game Tuesday at Oregon State (Pac-12 Networks), a makeup game of a Covid postponement from earlier this season. Colorado then heads to northern California for a pair, beginning with a 7:30 p.m. game Thursday at Cal (Pac-12 Networks), followed by an 8 p.m. contest Saturday at Stanford (ESPN/U).