SALT LAKE CITY — Credit Rick Majerus with another assist.
For the second time since his passing Dec. 1, the former Utah coach provided inspiration for a victory in the Huntsman Center. This time, it was a 58-55 win for the Utes over Colorado.
“I think he was in the building for us there going down the stretch — just with enough to get us over the top,” said Utah coach Larry Krytskowiak.
The Utes (10-11, 2-7) prevailed despite nearly squandering a 22-point lead over the final 12 minutes of play. The Buffaloes (14-7, 5-6) pulled within one on two occasions inside the last two minutes.
Utah responded to each challenge successfully. Jarred DuBois made two free throws the first time around. The second close call was thwarted by a pivotal rebound by Jason Washburn, a turnover by Colorado’s Spencer Dinwiddie and eventually, a pair of foul shots by Glen Dean. The latter came with seven seconds remaining.
The outcome remained in doubt, however, until a long 3-point attempt by Dinwiddie to even things up at the buzzer was well off the mark.
“I feel like that end-of-the-game anxiety was a little unnecessary, but we played good enough to win,” said Washburn, who finished with 13 points and 11 rebounds. “We pulled it out when it was important. Guys stepped up and hit big free throws. Guys stepped up and hit big shots. That’s how you win basketball games.”
Despite having lost four straight games at home, Washburn added that the Utes came in confident and believed they were going to win.
“There was never any doubt and we got it done. A lot of guys contributed. A lot of guys played hard,” he said.
Jeremy Olsen, Cedric Martin and DuBois finished with 12, 11 and 10 points, respectively, as the Utes held on before an appreciative crowd featuring members of the Majerus family and former players like Keith Van Horn, Andre Miller and Michael Doleac. A banner was unveiled at halftime, honoring Majerus with the retirement of his trademark sweater.
“Heck, we should probably talk about coach Majerus being in the gym more,” Washburn said, while noting the Utes’ 77-56 victory over Boise State on the week of the coach’s death. “Every time we’ve done it, we’ve pulled out some big wins.”
Utah never trailed after reeling off eight straight points late in the first half. The run erased a 23-21 deficit and lifted the Utes to a 31-25 halftime lead. They increased their advantage significantly when play resumed, bridging a defensive effort that held Colorado without a field goal for the final 4:25 of the first half and the opening 5:48 of the second.
Krystkowiak said Utah’s defensive success was a combination of things, specifically good zone play and pick-and-roll coverage. The Utes also did well offensively during the pivotal stretch, outscoring the Buffaloes 28-4 at one point.
“We wanted to pound it inside on them and that’s exactly what we did,” Olsen said.
And in the end, it all added up to a much-needed win for a Utah team that’s had its share of close losses.
“It’s a learning experience. It’s one of the few times this season that it’s a learning experience for us when we didn’t lose the game,” Krystkowiak said. “I wish it had been a little prettier at the end but we will take it.”
Krystkowiak was especially pleased for his players.
“I feel really happy for our kids in the locker room,” he explained, “because they’ve been busting their tails and haven’t caught a break in a while.”
Colorado coach Tad Boyle, meanwhile, acknowledged that his squad wasn’t very good Saturday.
“I have the utmost respect for the Utah program and I think it is great what Larry Krystkowiak is doing here, this program and what it means — they honored one of the all-time great coaches that coached here,” Boyle said. “But for a team that has not won a home conference game to have their first one on the Buffs, we have to have more pride in ourselves than that. We have to come in more prepared and I take full responsibility for that.”
EXTRA STUFF: Utah returns to action Wednesday at Oregon State. It visits Oregon on Saturday. ... Attendance was 10,977. ... Krystkowiak said freshman forward Jordan Loveridge, who did not play because of a sore knee, is expected to resume practice Monday and be back in the lineup for the road trip. ... Freshman Brandon Taylor started in place of DuBois and junior college transfer Renan Lenz stepped in for Loveridge.