In a relatively low-scoring affair that stuck to the script, the Colorado Buffaloes were just too much for the University of Utah men’s basketball team to handle and they paid the price with a 71-63 road loss.
In their final regular-season game away from the Jon M. Huntsman Center, the Utes (15-13, 9-7 Pac-12) fell in an ugly, hard-fought defensive battle to a Colorado (17-11, 8-8 Pac-12) squad that now sees itself two spots higher in the Pac-12 standings. The Utes left while being one win away from leapfrogging up to the top five in the conference.
Leading up to the game, most of the signs were pointing to a low-scoring, defense-heavy matchup between a high-flying Utah offense and a gritty, determined Colorado unit. The defense would prevail, and Utah’s numbers showed just that. Sedrick Barefield, while scoring a game-high 19 points, was still held under 20, which is nothing but a sign of the type of play that Colorado used to smother Utah for 40 straight minutes. The Buffaloes went into the half with a 36-26 lead, on pace for a 72-52 win, should the scoring have kept pace. Colorado’s defense, however, continued to suck the life out of Utah’s offense and in the end, they were able to keep the Utes off the scoreboard in their home court.
The Buffaloes managed to completely cool off a red-hot Utah offense. The team shot the lights out of Washington State in their last game, and they thought that if they could keep up that kind of offensive production, that they could just blow through any defense — something that could pay off in the impending Pac-12 Tournament.
One positive that can be taken from the loss is that, defensively, the Utes played with some vigor. It might have been the situation surrounding the game, the implications in the standings, or whatever, but the Utes had a determined look to their plays. They are obviously working out the kinks before the tournament, and if their plays and calls aren’t going to work, it’s good news that it’s happening now and not in Las Vegas.
According to the standings, the Utes now sit fifth in the Pac-12, while Colorado jumped up to eighth. Looking at potential brackets based off current standings, the Utes are slated to play the 12th seed in the tournament, a spot currently occupied by the Cal Bears. While on the outset, it looks like an easy road to round two, Cal has had Utah’s number in the past. They knocked out the higher-seeded Utes in the 2016 tournament, and while they only have two wins in conference play, they are against conference champion Washington, and Washington State, who the Utes lit up just a few days ago. That’s two consecutive wins against much better talent and, to Utah, that’s a horrible time to start a winning streak. The plus side to this is if, by some mathematical wizardry, the Bears can leapfrog Washington State, the Utes could see a familiar foe in round one that they’ve dominated before.
Although the Utes sit fifth, tied with several teams and one game apart from much more, being in the middle of the Pac-12 is not a bad spot to be in, aside from the top four seeds that earn a first-round bye. The sixth seed plays the 11th seed, the fifth play the 12th, and the seventh seed plays the 10th seed. The spot that the Utes do not want, statistically speaking, is that eighth or ninth seed, who play each other in round one. That puts the Utes the closest they could come, speed-wise, to their opponent, which wouldn’t bode well considering that the lower seeds are, you know, worse.
The Utes will finish their 2019 regular season with a two-game homestand at the Huntsman Center, against USC and UCLA on March 7 and 9. It’ll be a fight for bracket positioning among three teams that currently sit third, fourth, and fifth in the conference. Buckle your seatbelts.