The No. 13 Utah Utes (17-4) head to Boulder on Saturday to battle the Colorado Buffaloes (11-10) on the hardwood of the Coors Events Center. The Utes will wrap up a three game road trip against the Buffs who are 10-3 this season at home. Utah comes into the game after drubbing USC 67-39 and a suffering disappointing loss to UCLA at Pauley Pavilion. Colorado enters the game staggering, having lost five of their last seven games.
Colorado leads the all-time series 25-17, including 16-4 in the Coors Event Center. The Runnin' Utes have lost seven of the last nine against the Buffs, winning both of the last two games in the Jon M. Huntsman Center.
In this seasons earlier matchup between these two schools in Salt Lake City, Delon Wright and Brandon Taylor combined for 27 points and Jakob Poeltl grabbed eight rebounds and had a blocked shot, as the Utes rolled to a 74-49 victory. The game was won in the fashion Utah head coach Larry Krystkowiak's Utes have become known for, getting the lead early and keeping it using a stifling defense. The Buffs turned the ball over 18 times, which the Utes turned into 28 points. Colorado was led by guard Askia Booker, who netted 12 points to go with six rebounds. Scott, Colorado's second leading scorer behind Booker, was held to three points and two rebounds, and the third member of Colorado's "Big Three" Xavier Johnson, was held to no points and only one rebound, having suffered an ankle injury early in the game.
Colorado is a different team at home than they are on the road. The Buffs have secured 10 of their 11 victories this season on their home court, averaging 73.2 points per game in Boulder. In contrast, the Buffs only average 61 points per game and are just 1-7 on the road, their lone road win coming against lowly USC 98-94 in triple overtime. The Utes, meanwhile, have been terrific at the Huntsman Center, averaging 82 points per game and beating opponents by an average of 26.4 points per game, but mediocre on the road, averaging 60.7 points per game and having a 4-4 record this season.
These stats lead one to believe this game won't be a repeat of the blowout of a month ago at the Huntsman Center. Utah will need to come out with energy and play well to get the win. UCLA was able to show just how much of a difference home court advantage can play in their 69-59 win on January 29th, less than a month after being demolished 71-39 in Salt Lake City The Utes struggled to match the Bruins intensity and were never able to take control of the game in the loss. One major difference between Colorado and UCLA, is the Bruins seem to be hitting their stride as of late, winning six of their last eight games, while the Buffaloes are floundering since entering conference play. Another factor working against Colorado is the on-going back spasms for star center/forward Josh Scott.
Before the last contest between the Utes and Buffs, Scott had sat out two prior consecutive games with back spasms. He was questionable for the game in Salt Lake but made it onto the floor where he played 28 mostly forgettable minutes, scoring all three of his points on free throws. Since that January 7th game, Scott has not played in a single game and remains questionable once again heading into this Saturday's game. If Scott is able to play, it's safe to assume he will not be 100%. In his abscence, 6-9, 225-pound sophomore Wesley Gordon has stepped in at the post position and has performed admirably, averaging 7.7 points and 7.9 rebounds per game. That being said, Gordon is not the load Scott is at 6-foot-10, 245. The Utes are currently 124th in the country in rebounding, averaging 35.7 rebounds per game, and with Poeltl still nursing an ankle injury, any advantage the Utes can get inside is welcome.
If Scott is unable to play, the Utes will be able to key in on Askia Booker and Xavier Johnson, as the Buffs don't have many big scorers outside of those two. Booker leads Colorado with 17.6 points per game and went off for 43 points against USC and 30 points against Arizona. Expect to see Delon Wright go head-to-head with Booker and Brekkott Chapman and Kyle Kuzma guarding Johnson. Wesely Gordon and Jaron Hopkins of Colorado are able to create some offense as well, averaging 7.7 and 7.5 points per game, respectively, but neither have proven to be the threat Booker or Johnson are.
On offense the Utes should look to get Poeltl and Reyes involved early down low, freeing up Dakari Tucker on the wing and Brandon Taylor at the top of the key for three-point shots. The Utes offense works best when they build from the inside-out during the course of the game. It's no coincidence that in each of the Utes four losses Poeltl has scored eight points or less. As has been the case most of the season, the Utes are the deeper more talented team, and, provided they come out with intensity, should win this game.
You can catch the game Saturday at 8 p.m. MT on Pac-12 Networks. Ted Robinson and former UCLA star Don MacLean have the call.
Lost in the disappointment of the Utes loss at Pauley Pavilion is that Utah swept USC this season, in both major men's sports. If Steve Sarkisian keeps reeling in top ranked recruiting classes every year, don't expect that to happen often. While Utah is likely to be the better basketball team for the foreseeable future, getting the sweep over the Trojans is a pretty big deal.
Poeltl had 14 points and nine rebounds in the 67-39 crushing on Sunday. Wright added 11 points and five rebounds, while Jordan Loveridge scored 10 points for the Utes. Utah was up 32-12 at halftime and led by as many as 29 points in the second half.
Utah held the Trojans to 26.5 percent shooting from the field, including 1-of-12 from 3-point range. It was the Trojans' largest margin of defeat this season and it also matched the lowest scoring output for a Ute opponent since it joined the Pac-12.