BOULDER, Colo. — While heavy snow fell outside the CU Events Center, Utah’s bid for a bye in the Pac-12 Tournament was also blanketed — albeit not as much.
A 71-63 loss at Colorado dropped the Utes into a fourth-place tie with UCLA at 9-7 entering the final week of conference play. It also tightened a logjam for teams seeking to claim one of the four first-round byes in Las Vegas. Arizona, Colorado, Oregon, Stanford and USC are still in mathematical contention as the end of the season draws near.
“We’ve just got to focus on getting better this week. I know there’s going to be a lot of talk about (the conference race) for everybody’s program as you wind down the last two games,” said Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak. “Everything’s hypothetical until we’re done Saturday night. I know one thing, we’ve got to focus on us and not worry about what’s going on around us. We’ll stay true to that.”
Sedrick Barefield finished with a game-high 19 points as Utah capped its most successful Pac-12 road campaign on a sour note. The Utes went 6-3 away from home in conference games.
Tyler Bey scored 15 points as Colorado built a 35-26 halftime lead. The Buffaloes broke from a 12-12 tie by going on a 9-0 run. The Utes missed nine straight shots during the pivotal stretch and went more than five minutes without scoring.
Colorado eventually built a 27-18 advantage before Utah climbed back into contention and closed the gap to four with just under two minutes left in the half. The Buffs, though, scored the final five points to regain some breathing room going into the break.
The Utes shot just 35.5 percent (11 of 31) over the first 20 minutes and led the game for just 53 seconds.
Sophomore Donnie Tillman, who finished with 14 points, said it just came down to not making open shots. He noted they weren’t falling early on.
Barefield agreed with the diagnosis.
“We did have some defensive lapses but at the same time we played good enough defense to put ourselves in position to win,” he said. “And its was one of those days when the ball wasn’t going in.”
Things got better for a spell early in the second half. After Colorado extended its lead to 39-28, Utah reeled off seven straight points. Two baskets by Both Gach and three free throws from Barefield pulled the Utes to within 39-35.
The Buffaloes responded with a 12-5 outburst to thwart the threat entering the final 12 1/2 minutes. Utah failed to get any closer than six the rest of the way.
Shooting proved to be a big problem as the Utes connected on just 5 of 26 shots from 3-point range.
Krystkowiak said he could think of eight to 10 open 3-point shots that they’ve been making as of late. The backcourt, he added, was 2 of 18.
“There were a lot of wide-open ones that when you do the math on those add up — then all of a sudden we’re in a ballgame,” Krystkowiak said.
Utah closes out the regular season next week at home against USC and UCLA. The Utes host the Trojans on Thursday (8 p.m., FS1) and the Bruins on Saturday (5 p.m., Pac-12 Network).15 comments on this story
“Our team should really focus on just getting a lot of shots up (in practice),” Barefield said. “I know that’s what I’m going to do. I know that’s what my teammates will do.”
Utah entered the game leading the Pac-12 in 3-point shots made.
EXTRA STUFF: The attedance was 8,405 . . . Bey finished with a team-high 17 points for Colorado . . . The Utes outrebounded the Buffaloes 34-33 . . . Gach and Timmy Allen finished with 12 and 11 points, respectively, to join Barefield and Tillman in double figures . . . Colorado outscored Utah 16-4 in points off of turnovers . . . Jayce Johnson blocked three shots for the Utes.