BOULDER, Colo. — With the exception of a couple of one-minute spurts where he felt his team threw the ball away, Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak thought the Utes had the “perfect poise for the road” Thursday night at Colorado.
They were pretty dang close to where they needed to be, he added.
In the end, though, the margin of error proved to be too great. The Utes wound up dropping a competitive contest to the Buffaloes, 60-50, at the Coors Events Center.
“We struggled to score in the second half. It was a combination of us turning the ball over too many times, not getting a good shot, and when we did get good shots they didn’t go in,” Krystkowiak said. “So that usually doesn’t lead to a victory. That leads to a 50-point night.”
Despite the shortcomings, Krystkowiak was pleased with the effort.
“I thought the kids fought pretty hard in a hostile environment here for the most part,” he said. “The game got away from us down the stretch.”
The Utes (11-15, 3-11) came out markedly better than they did in last season’s trip to Colorado. That night they managed just 11 points in the first half en route to a 73-33 setback.
This time it took them less than eight minutes to put more points on the board.
Although Colorado (18-8, 8-6) got off to a 5-0 start, Utah climbed back into contention and managed to build a couple of five-point leads — at 24-19 and 26-21 — before the Buffaloes used a late run to take a 30-28 halftime advantage.
“We were hitting shots,” said Utah guard Brandon Taylor, who led all scorers with 10 points in the half. “We were together as a team.”
Nine turnovers, however, proved to be a problem.
“Other than that, I think we did a very good job in the first half,” Taylor said.
Colorado led despite making just 4 of 17 shots from 3-point range and being outrebounded 15-13. Jordan Loveridge paced Utah in the latter category, grabbing a game-high six rebounds in the opening half — three more than national leader Andre Roberson of the Buffaloes had at the break.
The lead changed hands four times over the first 20 minutes — the last time on a 3-pointer by Spencer Dinwiddie that gave a Colorado a 29-28 edge with 1:20 remaining in the half.
Utah took its final lead early in the second half when Loveridge hit a 3-pointer to make it 31-30 with 18:46 left to play. Colorado opened a decisive 11-0 run 46 seconds later on a tip-in by Xavier Johnson. The Buffaloes then added 3-pointers by Askia Booker and Sabatino Chen, as well as a free throw by Booker and a basket by Roberson, to extend their lead to 41-31 with 15:13 to go.
“We gave them open shots that they didn’t get all game and then it was hard to come back from that,” said Loveridge, who finished with a team-high 12 points and seven rebounds.
It proved to be enough to hold the Utes off down the stretch.
Even so, Utah didn’t go down without a fight.
The Utes retaliated with five straight points (two from Loveridge and a 3-pointer by Jarred DuBois) to quickly cut the deficit to 41-36.
Colorado, however, answered the challenge with a 6-0 burst to thwart the threat — for a while, anyhow.
Trailing 47-36, Utah turned to Dakarai Tucker. The freshman connected on a pair of 3-pointers and a layup to fuel a 10-3 outburst that once again pulled the Utes to within five. A jumper by Loveridge sliced Colorado’s lead to 51-46 with 6:26 on the clock.
Two exchanges of baskets followed — with Utah scoring on a dunk by Renan Lenz and on a shot by Jason Washburn — as the Utes restored the five-point margin. Over the final 2:30, though, the Buffaloes hit five free throws to seal the outcome.
Utah has four games remaining before next month’s Pac-12 tournament in Las Vegas. The Utes visit California and Stanford next week before closing out the regular season at home against Oregon State (March 7) and Oregon (March 9).
“We’ve got to win basketball games,” Washburn said. “We’re heading into a tough road environment. It’s not going to be easy over there in the Bay Area.”
EXTRA STUFF: Dinwiddie finished with a game-high 13 points. ... Roberson topped all rebounders with 13. ... Taylor and Tucker had three steals apiece for Utah. ... The Utes wound up with 15 turnovers and shot just 31 percent (9 of29) from the field in the second half.
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