Buffs Roll Past Utah For 20th Win, Earn No. 4 Seed In Pac-12
SALT LAKE CITY — Colorado jumped out to a big early lead Saturday and the Buffaloes cruised to an 84-71 win over Utah at the Huntsman Center, giving CU its fourth straight 20-win season and the fourth seed in next week's Pac-12 tournament.
Tad Boyle's Buffaloes improved to 20-10 overall and 12-8 in conference play while the Utes fell to 11-19, 4-16.
The Buffs will open play in the conference tournament Thursday with a 3:30 p.m. (MT) game against the winner of Wednesday's Oregon-Oregon State game.
The win marked only the second time in CU history that the Buffs have won at least 20 games four years in a row, matching Boyle's 2010-2014 teams. It is the 13th 20-win season overall in CU history and the ninth in Boyle's 12 years in Boulder, and Colorado's 6-4 finish on the road is also the Buffs' first winning road record for a season since the 1968-69 season.
Colorado jumped out to a 23-9 lead eight minutes in and held a 50-29 edge at intermission, thanks in large part to 9-for-13 shooting from 3-point range. The Buffs extended the lead to as much as 29 early in the second half and the Utes never came closer than 13 again.
The Buffs were hot from the beginning, led by a career-high 27 points from senior Evan Battey, who also had a career-high six 3-pointers on 6-for-9 shooting from long distance. Sophomore Jabari Walker recorded his 16th double-double of the year with 27 points and 12 rebounds, and Nique Clifford chipped in 11 points.
David Jenkins led Utah with 18 points.
CU shot 51 percent from the floor (30-for-59), including 14-for-23 from long distance, while holding the Utes to 44 percent (24-for-54). Colorado also had a comfortable 36-30 edge on the boards and finished with 18 assists and just nine turnovers.
"A good win for us," Boyle said. "We could have let down (after last week's win over No. 2 Arizona), but we didn't. This is the first time in 53 years a Colorado team has had a winning record on the road. I challenged them with that and they rose to the challenge."
HOW IT HAPPENED: The Buffs put together one of their best halves of the season to open the game, jumping out to a 23-9 lead eight minutes in and extending the margin to 50-29 by halftime.
Colorado dominated the first 20 minutes on both ends. Battey, the Pac-12's leading 3-point percentage shooter, hit three treys in the first six minutes of the game as CU finished the half hitting 9 of 13 tries from long distance.
The Buffs used an 8-0 run early to take a 17-7 lead, then added an 11-1 surge minutes later to push their advantage to 28-10. Utah momentarily cut CU's lead down to 12, but Colorado quickly bumped the margin back up to 21, with Battey collecting three buckets inside, then draining a 3-pointer to give CU a 45-24 edge with just under two minutes to play in the half.
Clifford capped the half with a baseline jumper to send the Buffs into the locker room with a 21-point lead, 50-29.
"We started with energy on defense and then the shots started falling," Walker said. "We're playing for each other more."
CU finished the half 19-for-34 from the floor, including 9-for-13 from beyond the arc. The Buffs also had a 23-11 edge on the boards that helped produce 11 second-chance points and CU held Utah to 38 percent shooting (11-for-29) for the half.
"We really guarded in the first half," Boyle said. "We took our defensive assignments and really locked in."
The Buffs continued to apply the pressure early in the second half. Another Battey 3-pointer at the 16:43 mark — his fifth of the game — gave Colorado a 58-32 edge before the Buffs built their biggest lead of the game, a 29-point margin, on a K.J. Simpson three-point play just six minutes in for a 64-35 CU lead.
Utah never really threatened after that, coming no closer than 13 in the final minutes, but Boyle wasn't overly pleased with the way the Buffs closed the game.
"We got a little soft offensively and defensively," he said. "This young team has to learn from that."
Along with his 22 points and 12 boards, Walker also had a career-high five assists and just two turnovers.
"He did a great job tonight," Boyle said. "He made a lot of great basketball plays."
TURNING POINT: Colorado used an 8-0 run to turn a 9-7 lead into a 17-7 edge six minutes into the game and the Utes never cut the deficit down to single digits again.
WHAT IT MEANS: The Buffs, winners of seven of their last eight, take plenty of momentum and confidence into next week's Pac-12 tournament. The fourth consecutive 20-win season also is a strong mark of the consistency Boyle has baked into the program.
KEY STATISTICS: CU shot 51 percent from the floor (30-for-59), including 14-for-23 from long distance, while holding the Utes to 44 percent (24-for-54) … Colorado also had a 36-30 edge on the boards and finished with 18 assists and just nine turnovers.
NOTEWORTHY: The win marked the eighth time in CU history that the Buffs collected 20 wins in the regular season (before conference tournament) and the sixth time in the Boyle era … CU finished 6-4 in conference road games, the first time with a winning record on the road in league play since 1963-64. It is also the first time since 1968-69 that the Buffs had a winning road record for the season … The victory also marked CU's fourth straight win on the road, the best since the 1996-97 season.
NEXT UP: The Buffs will be the No. 4 seed in next week's Pac-12 tournament at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. CU will open play Thursday with a 3:30 p.m. (MT) game against the winner of Wednesday's game between No. 5 Oregon and No. 12 Oregon State. If the Buffs win, they will play again Friday at 7 p.m.