Boulder, Colo. • Here is one glaring thing the University of Utah men’s basketball team lacks, and coach Larry Krystkowiak is not shying away from admitting it.
Physicality, specifically in his frontcourt. Amid all of the Utes’ youth, which includes a pretty strong backcourt nucleus, they lack a legitimate post presence as this season, which has seen Utah play beyond its projection, reaches the halfway point. At this juncture, whenever the Utes run into a team with big guys willing to bang down low, they’re going to be in some trouble.
No. 25 Colorado fits that bill, not just down low, but all over its rotation. The Buffaloes have two legit, physical forwards in junior Tyler Bey and freshman Evan Battey, plus an older, savvy point guard willing to crash the boards in junior McKinley Wright IV. All three had big games on Sunday, and all three lent a big hand in blowing out Utah 91-52 in front of 8,017 at the CU Events Center.
“It’s a veteran team that’s very physical, and I thought we got exposed on the level of physicality,” Krystkowiak said. “Anytime you’re minus-20 on the glass, I think that’s a big part of it. They’re a good defensive team, one of the best in the country, and they have a lot of facets to make them successful. They came out and responded very well.”
Sunday’s game was never close. When the first media timeout arrived at the 16:16 mark of the first half, Utah (10-5, 1-2 Pac-12) had been sufficiently punched in the mouth. The Utes never had a good-enough answer.
Battey, a bruising 260-pound forward, hauled in a Wright miss at close range and laid it back in for an 8-2 lead. Shane Gatling banged a 3-pointer from the left wing off the secondary break and Wright knocked down his own triple off a Rylan Jones turnover. That gave Colorado a 14-2 lead, all of the momentum, and the remedy to get over an awful home loss a week ago to Oregon State, in which the Buffaloes folded over the final 7:00.
Wright was the best player on the floor, finishing with a game-high 16 points on 6-for-7 shooting to go along with eight assists and seven rebounds. Bey, tied for the Pac-12 lead in rebounding entering the day, finished with 11 points and 13 boards for his seventh double-double of the season, while Battey had 17 points and 10 boards. The Buffaloes, averaging plus-7.3 rebounding margin for the season, finished Sunday plus-20 on the glass.
“We felt prepared, we knew what we were getting ourselves into,” said sophomore guard Both Gach, who was held to seven points and committed five turnovers. “At the end of the day, they competed harder than us. They wanted it more. We have to be able to throw the first punch when we play teams like that.”
Utah never found its footing and nothing worked. In an effort to provide more physicality, Krystkowiak started Lahat Thioune instead of Branden Carlson. Senior walk-on forward Marc Reininger, suiting up for the first time this season after dealing with a foot injury, saw first-half minutes starting at the 10:48 mark. Krystkowiak then went deeper into his bench, calling on seldom-used freshman guard Eli Ballstaedt with 8:58 left before halftime.
All of that was a backdrop to the fact Wright spearheaded a superb defensive effort against Timmy Allen, the Pac-12’s leading scorer entering the day. The sophomore forward scored seven of Utah’s first nine points, and that’s all he got. The seven points came on 2-for-11 shooting.
“Team effort, our coaches the entire week kept saying his name,” Wright said. “We took that as an individual challenge and as a collective challenge to shut their water off. We kept hearing his name all week; it was kind of annoying.”