Saturday night, several Utes will play their final game at the Huntsman Center. Jordan Loveridge, Brandon Taylor, Dakari Tucker, Austin Eastman, and in all likelihood Jakob Poeltl will take the court at home for the final time. This senior class was Larry Krystkowiak's first recruiting class and the group that formed the foundation for Utah's turnaround from a 6-25 team in Krystkowiak's first season to a 23-7 team this season.
The Utah basketball program has come so far in the past four seasons and finds itself still in contention to win a share of the Pac-12 title this season. In order for that scenario to play out, Oregon needs to lose their final game at USC and Utah will need to beat their final opponent, the Colorado Buffaloes.
Colorado has proven to be a tough matchup for any Pac-12 team this season and will enter the game with payback on their minds. The Buff's best player, senior forward Josh Scott made that clear earlier this week.
"I think the word for us is payback. They beat us on our homecourt and we'd like to get them back."
Scott is of course referencing the last meeting between the two schools when Lorenzo Bonam hit a floater with under two seconds left on the clock to lift the Utes past Colorado in Boulder. In retrospect, Bonam's shot that night served as a turning point for the season. That win over Colorado was the beginning of the 12-3 run the Utes are currently on, and saved Utah from an 0-3 conference start which could have spelled disaster for the season.
A big part of the turn around came from improved play from a couple of the seniors who will be playing their last game. Jordan Loveridge and Brandon Taylor both struggled early in conference play. It was Taylor who missed two free throws in the closing minute of an inexplicable loss to Stanford. Taylor also committed the infamous foul on a desperation heave against Oregon State that wound up costing Utah the game.
Taylor has bounced back down the stretch however bumping his shooting percentage from 37.8% in the first eleven conference games to 52.9% in the past six games. Behind the arc, Taylor has seen his percentage increase from 32.8% to a blistering 55.9% in the same period. Perhaps the signature moment of Brandon Taylor's season came in the closing moments against Arizona when he broke Gabe York's ankles and buried a three to seal the win.
Loveridge has also picked his game up over the course of the season which has been a huge boost for the team. The senior has increased his shooting percentage from 36.7% to 41.8%. From three, Loveridge increased from 38.1 to 40.8. With Loveridge's increased shooting percentage has come more points; his average points per game increased from 9.5 to 14.
A win against Colorado will lock up the no.2 seed in the Pac-12 tournament for Utah, regardless of what Oregon or any other team in the Pac-12 does. Colorado is playing well, having knocked off the Arizona schools last week and are winners of four of their last six. They aren't playing as well as the Utes however, who are on a six game winning streak and appear to be improving heading into postseason play.
It should be a tough matchup, with Colorado being a good team and having the "revenge" factor to get them amped for the game. I have a hard time seeing the Buffs leaving with a win however. It will also be an emotional night for the Utes with so many key players playing in their final game at the Huntsman Center, not to mention a 15-1 home record and the raucous home crowd.
The game tips off at 7:30pm MT and will be televised on ESPN.