Larry Krystkowiak is not a man for hyperbole. So it’s only fitting that the Utah coach walked into his postgame press conference and perfectly summed up the Utes’ 58-55 win over Colorado on Saturday afternoon with two simple words.
Before 10,977 people at the Huntsman Center, Utah built a 22-point advantage over the Buffaloes with a little more than 12 minutes remaining. And before 10,977 — on a day that saw the retirement of Rick Majerus’ sweater — the Utes tried valiantly to give it all away.
But unlike blown leads against Cal State Northridge and Sacramento State, Utah found a way to barely survive. It wasn’t over until Colorado’s Spencer Dinwiddie wildly missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer. Then the Huntsman Center breathed a collective sigh.
“It’s good to have a learning experience where you won the game,” Krystkowiak said. “We have to work on late-game situations, and we have to learn how to stay aggressive with a lead. I think everyone has to kind of look into the mirror for that. But this was a good win. Rick Majerus was in the building, and he was just enough to push us over the top.”
Utah’s season has been defined by its inconsistency. For a stretch, the Utes looked like competitors against Arizona, Arizona State, UCLA and Washington. For a stretch, against USC, Stanford and California, they looked like also-rans.
The Utes from early January showed up against the Buffaloes, a contender for an NCAA Tournament berth. Utah’s defense, shredded last Sunday against Stanford, was once again stout. The offense, bolstered by Brandon Taylor’s first career start at point guard, was crisp and yielded good shots.
And despite losing Jordan Loveridge for the game with a knee injury suffered in practice this week, the Utes were dominant in the paint. Senior Jason Washburn led the way with 13 points and 11 rebounds. Freshman Jeremy Olsen played 14 minutes and contributed 12 points. Cedric Martin and Jarred DuBois scored 11 and 10 points, respectively.
“It feels good to sit here and not have to answer questions about coulda, shoulda and woulda,” Washburn said. “We were able to keep our composure in the second half, and we were able to make the plays that we needed to win the game.”
Things almost didn’t turn up so rosy for a Utah team that has struggled to close games out with leads. A Martin 3-pointer that kissed the backboard and swished through the net supplied the Utes with a 49-27 advantage with 12:28 remaining. The Huntsman Center was rocking. Former Majerus players such as Andre Miller, Keith Van Horn and Michael Doleac were on their feet, giving Krystkowiak’s team a standing ovation.
And then, as suddenly as the lead was built, it all vanished.
The Utes went the final 10:44 without a field goal. The Buffaloes, who went 10 minutes themselves without scoring a bucket, couldn’t miss. Slowly, Utah’s hefty advantage melted. A 3-pointer by Sabatino Chen gave his team life at 54-50. A steal and layup by Andre Roberson made it 54-53 with 1:55 remaining. The Huntsman Center? Yes, the fan base melted down right along with the team, as they booed the Utes lustily during the latter stages of the Buffalo rally. This story, however, ended happily for the Utes. DuBois knocked down two free throws. Taylor’s defense forced a turnover in a one-point game. And Glen Dean made two more from the free-throw stripe.
Utah’s 10th win of the season — and its second of the Pac-12 schedule — was celebrated by an entire team. It’s inconsistent, but progress is being made in Krystkowiak’s program.
“This is a win that feels really good,” Olsen said.
O Utah holds on for dear life, despite leading by 22 points with 12 minutes remaining.
• The Utes win their 10th game of the season.
• Glen Dean and Jarred DuBois hit the game-clinching free throws down the stretch.
Utah 58, Colorado 55
COLORADO (14-7) • Booker 3-14 2-2 8, Johnson 3-7 0-1 6, Roberson 4-6 0-0 10, Dinwiddie 5-10 6-9 18, Scott 2-7 1-2 5, Talton 1-1 0-1 2, Stalzer 0-0 0-0 0, Harris-Tunks 0-1 0-2 0, Chen 2-4 1-1 6. Totals • 20-50 10-18 55.
UTAH (10-11) • Dean 0-5 2-2 2, Lenz 1-1 1-2 3, Taylor 3-7 0-1 7, Washburn 5-11 3-5 13, Martin 4-7 0-0 11, Seymour 0-1 0-0 0, DuBois 3-8 4-4 10, Bachynski 0-0 0-0 0, Olsen 6-8 0-0 12. Totals • 22-48 10-14 58.
Halftime—Utah 31-25. 3-Point Goals—Colorado 5-17 (Roberson 2-4, Dinwiddie 2-4, Chen 1-2, Johnson 0-2, Booker 0-5), Utah 4-13 (Martin 3-6, Taylor 1-2, Dean 0-2, DuBois 0-3). Fouled Out—None. Rebounds—Colorado 34 (Roberson 12), Utah 30 (Washburn 11). Assists—Colorado 6 (Dinwiddie 3), Utah 13 (DuBois 4). Total Fouls—Colorado 15, Utah 16. A—10,977.