Boulder, Colo. • The momentum the Utes gained from last weekend’s split with the Arizona schools faded fast.
Utah’s seven-game win streak over Colorado came to an abrupt end with a 67-55 loss on Friday night in the Coors Events Center. Utah posted its lowest scoring game of the season and didn’t have a single player break into double figures in points. Seniors David Collette and Gabe Bealer led the way with eight points apiece.
Buffaloes freshman guard McKinley Wright scored a game-high 21 points on 8-of-12 shooting and also dished out four assists.
The Utes’ previous low for points in a game this season (58) came in a loss against UNLV in T-Mobile Arena in November. They shot 35.1 percent from the field Friday.
“The game is designed to make baskets,” Utes coach Larry Krystkowiak said. “When you don’t make baskets and it’s a combination of missing open ones and taking some bad ones — we didn’t shoot a free throw in the first half. We didn’t finish really strong around the rim. There was some contact, but you’ve got to be a lot stronger to finish. There were four or five layups that I can think that we didn’t hit along with the threes.”
The Buffaloes had lost three in a row, including a 14-point loss to Arizona State two days after the Utes upset ASU in Tempe. However, the Buffaloes’ home-court advantage proved legitimate. They came into the night having won eight of their 10 home games, including wins over ASU and Arizona in Boulder.
“It’s a tough environment, playing at altitude and this Colorado team plays really hard,” Utes senior forward Tyler Rawson said. “They don’t take any possessions off. They really come at you every possession and tried to push it down our throats. They did a great a job in transition of pushing it down and converting early while we were trying to get our defense set.”
The Utes (13-9, 5-6 Pac-12) shot a paltry 27 percent from the field in the first half while going 2 of 14 from behind the 3-point arc. Many of the shots were the sort that they’ve made throughout the season, but offensively the Utes grew more out of sync as they continued to miss.
The backcourt duo of Justin Bibbins, the team’s leading scorer, and Sedrick Barefield, who had two of his best games of the season last weekend, combined for just two points on 1-of-12 shooting in the first half. Freshman forward Donnie Tillman started the game with a one-handed put-back dunk, but he struggled throughout the half and committed three turnovers in nine minutes.
“When shots weren’t falling, we got kind of out of character, you know, kind of forcing up shots rather than playing our usual game of getting other teammates involved and passing up good shots for great shots,” Bealer said.
Despite seven offensive rebounds, the Utes scored only two second-chance points. They went the final five minutes, 17 seconds without a point and still remained within seven points, 27-20, going into halftime. They also didn’t score for the first minute and 52 seconds of the second half.
The Buffaloes’ lead stretch to 13 points, 40-27, after back-to-back 3-pointers from the top of the key by sophomore forward Lucas Siewert with 13:44 remaining. The Utes trailed by as many as 21 in the second half.
Krystkowiak called it a “tough day” personally, referring to the death of Jon M. Huntsman, a longtime supporter and booster of the basketball program and the university’s athletic department. Huntsman and Krystkowiak, who’d both gone through bouts with cancer, had grown close during Krystkowiak’s seven-year tenure with the program. Krystkowiak addressed Hunstman’s passing prior to the game with the team.
“I’m not making an excuses,” Krystkowiak said. “It was a rough day for me. I told our players that. I’ll be better in the future. It stings. I don’t know how much it affected our guys.”