The reality was we weren’t playing defense quite as hard as we needed to. I think that kind of set the pace and we were able to keep that pace in the second half. —Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak
SALT LAKE CITY — It was a reality check that helped Utah to a 75-64 win over Colorado Saturday afternoon in the Huntsman Center.
Trailing 30-22 after nearly 16 minutes of play, the Utes got dialed in after a little discussion with coach Larry Krystkowiak.
“The reality was we weren’t playing defense quite as hard as we needed to,” he said, noting that they were able to get the situation corrected and even the score by halftime. “I think that kind of set the pace and we were able to keep that pace in the second half.”
As such, the Utes went on to win their home finale quite handily. Jordan Loveridge and Delon Wright each finished with 21 points as they improved to 19-9 overall and 8-8 in Pac-12 play.
The Buffaloes, meanwhile, dropped to 20-9 and 9-7.
“The second half, we are a different team. For some reason, the last few games — three out of the last four games — in the second half we come out and we just can't stop anybody,” said Colorado coach Tad Boyle. “Utah is a good team and they have good players. We did a pretty good enough job in the first half to shut them down, but it’s not like we locked them down.”
After playing to a 30-30 standstill in the first half, Utah pulled away from Colorado early in the second. The Utes returned from the break with a 9-0 run featuring five points from Wright and baskets by Loveridge and Lenz. The Buffaloes, meanwhile, turned the ball over four times and missed three shots during the pivotal stretch.
Utah began the decisive outburst by closing out the first half with eight straight points.
“We started picking up our defense and that was helping our offense,” Loveridge explained. “So just coming out of halftime, Coach just said try to build off that — just get some stops, then push and play our game, and that’s what we did.”
Utah eventually built a lead as large as 70-53. The Utes shot 70.8 percent from the field in the second half. Wright led the way with 19 points over the final 20 minutes.
“I wasn’t aggressive enough in the first half. I just tried to let the game come to me, but that wasn’t working,” Wright said. “So the second half I just tried to be more aggressive, get some foul shots up.”
The Utes shot eight free throws in the first half and 14 in the second — including nine by Wright in the latter. He hit seven of them.
Rebounding was a big variable as well. When the teams played in Boulder, Colo., last month, Colorado outrebounded Utah 42-24 and pulled down 17 offensive boards. The Buffaloes won the game 79-75 in overtime.
This time around, the Utes won the rebounding battle by a 30-27 margin. The Buffaloes were limited to nine on the offensive end.
“For us to have a rebound advantage against this team, I thought, was big,” Krystkowiak said. “We got pounded at their place.”
Utah’s defense also excelled. The Utes held Colorado starters Askia Booker and Xavier Talton to 1-of-8 shooting apiece.
The Buffaloes wound up making just 39.6 percent of their shots.
Armed with back-to-back lopsided wins over Arizona State (86-63) and Colorado, Utah closes out the regular season with games at California on Wednesday and Stanford on Saturday.
“You should be playing your best basketball at the end of the year and I felt with this game and our last game we’re starting to play that basketball,” Loveridge said.
Question is, will it be enough to get the Utes into the NCAA tourney for the first time since 2009.
“That would be good for us if we want to try to get into the tournament to get these two wins on the road and go into the Pac-12 tournament with a lot of confidence,” Wright said.