Utes’ top-four finish in the Pac-12 is in jeopardy after a 71-63 loss at Colorado

Utah forward Timmy Allen, left, and Colorado forward Lucas Siewert vie for possession of the ball during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, March 2, 2019, in Boulder, Colo. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Boulder, Colo. • With the game becoming tense in the last two minutes Saturday, a 3-point shot finally went through the net and Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak raised his arms.

Not in triumph. In exasperation.

The Utes' defensive lapse enabled Lucas Siewert to hit a clinching shot in Colorado's 71-63 victory at the CU Events Center, as the Buffaloes kept Utah from moving into a tie for second place in the Pac-12.

Krystkowiak will be haunted by how his players failed to make a defensive switch on that play, with Colorado's lead down to six points. Mostly, though, he'll remember all of his own team's misses.

The Pac-12's best 3-point shooting team went 5 of 26 against Colorado, and the Buffaloes could take only a fraction of the credit for those numbers. Shot selection was not really the issue, either. The Utes just missed repeatedly.

“I don't remember very many bad ones,” Krystkowiak said. “There were a lot of wide-open ones.”

So the problem was easily to pinpoint. In postgame interviews, athletes often repeat their coaches' message from the locker room, and Ute guard Sedrick Barefield relayed the telling statistic: Barefield and three other backcourt players shot a combined 2 of 18 from 3-point range. Both Gach was 0 for 6 and Parker Van Dyke, one of the team's top performers in February, was 0 for 3. Charles Jones Jr. missed his only attempt, a week after the Utes made 16 3-pointers in a win at Washington State.

“It was one of those days that the ball wasn't going in,” said Barefield, whose 19 points included 2-of-8 long-range shooting. “We have tremendous shooters on our team.”

Label this a missed opportunity, then. Utah (15-13, 9-7 Pac-12) dropped into a fourth-place tie in the conference with UCLA with two home games remaining, Thursday vs. USC and Saturday vs. UCLA.

Colorado (17-11, 8-8) needed a victory after two road losses, and the Buffaloes now are among a pack of teams close behind the Utes.

From Utah’s perspective, this game could be rationalized as one that a home team should win — except this is no ordinary season in the Pac-12, for the Utes or anyone else.

Utah finished 6-3 in conference road games, the program's best record in the Pac-12 era. Considering the state of the league and their own home record, though, the Utes could have used one more road win.

What's frightening is how far the Utes could fall in the Pac-12 tournament seeding if they finish 10-8 or 9-9 in the league. That's the weird reality of this conference in 2018-19.

And that's why Saturday was a bad time for Utah to revert to the team of November and December that couldn't get a key rebound, make open shots or finish plays at the rim. An inside presence would have been helpful, but Jayce Johnson scored only two points, offsetting his 13-rebound day.

The Utes' makeup is such that they thrive on the road when they make shots, and that didn't happen against Colorado. Donnie Tillman's consecutive 3-pointers in the first half stood out amid the team's futility, as he scored 14 points. Gach added 12, despite his outside struggles. Timmy Allen had 11 points in his return to the lineup after a two-game absence due to back trouble.

Tyler Bey scored 15 of his 17 points in the first half for Colorado.

Utah started the game poorly, and finished the first half with another lousy effort. D'Shawn Schwartz's 3-pointer at the buzzer gave the Buffaloes a 35-26 lead, after they had trailed 41-19 at halftime of a 78-69 loss at the Huntsman Center in January.

Utah got within four points early in the second half. Colorado extended the lead to 13 before the Utes made one last run. Barefield’s rare 3-pointer made it 63-57. But then Siewert answered with his only basket of the game for Colorado, nicely punctuating Utah’s day.


• Utah forward Timmy Allen returns to the lineup after a two-game injury absence and scores 11 points, but the Utes struggle offensively in a 71-63 loss at Colorado.

• The Utes miss an opportunity to move into a tie for second place in the Pac-12.

• Utah (9-7) needs wins in its last two games to finish conference play with a record of 11-7 or better for a fifth straight season.