SALT LAKE CITY — There weren't that many folks in the Huntsman Center to see it, but those that did come out on a Sunday afternoon, when a couple of NFL playoff games were on TV, witnessed something that hadn't been done very often, if ever, by a Utah basketball team.
Over a two-minute stretch midway through the first half, an aggressive, pressing Ute defense forced turnovers on five straight Colorado possessions, which went a long way in propelling the Utes to an easy 78-69 victory over the Buffaloes.
The dizzying defensive spell came during a 15-2 run that put the Utes up 24-9 and allowed them to coast to an easier-than-expected victory over their Rocky Mountain rivals.
All season long the Ute coaches have worked on specific concepts with their young team, and coach Larry Krystkowiak decided to implement a new defensive wrinkle where they picked up their opponents at midcourt with aggressive defense.
“We had a couple of zone concepts going and we were flying around,” Krystkowiak said. “Eighteen deflections in one half — we haven’t had that all season. It kind of opened up the game with those turnovers getting us out in transition and gave us a heck of a lot of momentum."
The defense was led by 6-foot-7 freshman Both Gach, 6-foot-7 sophomore Donnie Tillman, 6-foot-6 freshman Timmy Allen and 6-foot-2 senior Sedric Barefield.
Allen got the first steal, pressuring Colorado’s Lucas Siewert, followed by Gach’s steal of D’Shawn Schwartz. Then it was Barefield, who stripped the ball from Shane Gatling, and another steal by Allen of a pass by Tyler Bey. Finally, Tillman forced a turnover by Daylen Kountz as the Buffs got just one shot off during that stretch.
“We came in understanding we had to play defense — that’s been the theme of this last week,” said Barefield. “The coaches kept reiterating having active hands, active feet, and they put us in that press and we were reactive with the athletes we have.”
“That was the whole focus this week, just defense, defense. We came out and played hard,” added Tillman.
The Utes finished with nine steals on the day — all in the first half — after getting a season-high 11 against Washington State in the previous game.
“That was something we planned this week, we worked on it at practice and it kind of fell into turnovers,” Krystkowiak said. “Don’t put a lot of heat until they get to the midcourt line. It multiplies — it’s that momentum thing.”13 comments on this story
GAME NOTES: This marked the seventh straight Utah win over Colorado at the Huntsman Center . . . McKinley Wright, who leads Colorado in points (12.9), assists (5.3) and steals (1.5), missed the game because of a dislocated shoulder suffered in last week’s game against Washington . . . The Utes hit the road for a pair of games in the Bay Area, against Stanford Thursday night and California Saturday night. The Cardinal (2-4) and Bears (0-6) are both behind Utah in the Pac-12 standings . . . This marked the only Sunday game this season for the Utes, who have had as many as three in previous Pac-12 seasons . . . The all-time series record is now 27-23 in favor of Colorado.