SALT LAKE CITY — When Utah and Colorado met Feb. 1 in Boulder, the Buffaloes rallied from 12 points down in the second half and prevailed 79-75 in overtime.
The Achilles’ heel for the Utes that day, noted coach Larry Krystkowiak, was rebounding.
“They just manhandled us all the way around,” he said. “ We couldn’t secure defensive rebounds and that’s what, at the end of the day, really killed us.”
Utah was outrebounded 42-24 and allowed Colorado to grab 17 offensive boards.
Krystkowiak said that the Buffaloes were far more physical and aggressively went after rebounds. They also capitalized on a tough matchup at the 3-spot where 6-foot-7 forward Xavier Johnson pulled down 10 rebounds. Big man Josh Scott also had 10, while 6-foot-2 guard Askia Booker secured eight.
Utah forward Jordan Loveridge said that Colorado’s wings were coming in the paint at full speed in Boulder and were tough to box out.
As such, it’s been an area of emphasis as the Utes prepare for Saturday’s rematch in the Huntsman Center.
Utah center Dallin Bachynski predicts they’ll do a whole lot better on the boards this time around. It’s been a focus in practice, he said, and will be a huge focus in the game. Bachynski noted that fellow centers Renan Lenz and Jeremy Olsen will be also be ready to rebound.
“Boards are definitely on my mind this week and I guarantee they’re on Renan’s and J.O.’s minds as well,” Bachynski said. “Because if we don’t get rebounds, it’s going to be very difficult to win.”
Bachynski acknowledged that Colorado is a great rebounding team and that the Buffaloes’ small forwards get boards extremely well. Loveridge thus considers the battle to be as big as it has been all season.
“It’ll be a tough challenge again,” he said. “But if we get bodies on them early, we should be good.”
Rebounding will be a focal point in Utah’s home finale. Starting guard Brandon Taylor said the Utes know it. Colorado enters the game ranked second in the Pac-12 with 38 rebounds per game, including 11.71 on the offensive end.
“They are very, very aggressive on the boards as we saw the first time we played them. So we know what we’re in for and we’re ready for it. We have to get stops and we have to rebound the ball,” Taylor said. “We have to be more the aggressors this time. We have to bring the physical play to them, you know, instead of being hit with the physical play.”
In an effort to set the tone, Taylor explained that it has been a huge focus in practice. It has been for some time.
Utah has made vast improvements in rebounding since poor showings in back-to-back games at Arizona and Colorado earlier in the season. Over losses to the Wildcats and Buffaloes, the Utes were outrebounded 82-53 and gave up 37 offensive rebounds.
In the six games that followed, Utah has won the rebounding battle five times and is surrendering an average of just 10.5 offensive boards per game.
Despite the improvement, Krystkowiak doesn’t considered it permanent.
“It’s not fixed. It’s a daily focus that we’re going to have to have to block out and stay physical,” Krystkowiak said. “It’s going to be a point of emphasis this week. But I don’t think with our squad it’s something that we can say ‘OK, we fixed it, let’s go find something else to fix’ and not think about it quite a bit.”
That’s because Utah faces more size ahead. Next week’s opponents California (36.5 rpg) and Stanford (36.1 rpg) also rebound well.
“I think it’s kind of like one of the staples that we’re going to have to start focusing on, make it pretty consistent,” Krystkowiak said. “But I think it’s important to try to win every rebounding matchup regardless of who it is you’re playing.”
And with UCLA being the only team other than Colorado to break through and outrebound Utah last month, Krystkowiak said it’s something that the Utes have focused on pretty well.
Now, though, the stakes are raised as teams jockey for seeding position in next month’s Pac-12 Tournament in Las Vegas. Utah would obviously benefit greatly from ending the season on a roll — adding successful outcomes against Colorado, California and Stanford to Sunday’s lopsided win over Arizona State.
“In a lot of games, whoever wins the rebounding war wins the game,” Loveridge said. “I feel like if we can be close to or win the rebounding wars in these three games, we should come out with a victory.”
EXTRA STUFF: Departing seniors Renan Lenz and Xan Ricketts will be honored in pregame ceremonies. The Marriott Library’s special collections department and Utah athletics have teamed up to post photographs of historic teams, coaches, venues, fans, players and champions in the Huntsman Center concourse for the game. Colorado leads the all-time series with Utah, 25-16.
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