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Utes clinch 3-seed and 1st round bye in Pac-12 tournament with win over Colorado

NCAA Basketball: Utah at Colorado Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

The Utes were picked in the Pac-12 preseason poll as the No. 7 team in the league, well, after 18 conference games the Utes check in at No. 3 in the Pac-12. Not a bad season for the Utes at all, and now they have a 1st round bye in the Pac-12 tournament starting next week. The Utes will take on the winner of the 6/11 game.

It was a rather frenetic start of the game for the both of these teams, as both squads hit almsot everything they were throwing at the basket, and it was a fun brand of basketball to watch. On senior night, the Utes biggest seniors were carrying them, with David Collette and Justin Bibbins getting off to nice starts, but at about the 13 minute mark of the 1st half, Collette went down with a nasty looking ankle sprain. The Utes had to play without their best post player for the remainder of the game. I have to say, Coach K played some great chess with different lineups for so much of the game. He elected to go small, which threw CU off their gameplan, and the Utes ended up building a 17 point lead in the first half.

In the 2nd half, it was the opposite of the 1st with a bunch of ugly basketball. There were bricks being thrown up, sloppy fouls, and just overall poor play, frankly from both teams. CU was just less awful in that stretch where they cut down the deficit to 3 points at times through the half. When momentum was going the wrong way, often times it was a Utah senior who would stop it, mostly Justin Bibbins. Bibbins had 24 points, including six threes to keep CU at bay. A couple of those threes, mainly one with under a minute remaining, were a dagger in the Buffs’ hearts.

Utah did get some good contributions off the bench as well, actually, really important contributions from Sedrick Barefield, who has missed a couple of weeks, and Donnie Tillman. Sedrick Barefield scored 14 points in the game. He was a perfect 10-of-10 from the free throw line becoming just the 14th player in school history to shoot 1.000 percent from the free throw line with at least 10 attempts in a game. Donnie Tillman finished with 10 points – his first double-digit scoring effort since scoring 14 points against Washington back on Jan. 18. Tyler Rawson didn’t have a huge game, but his 5 points in the 2ndhalf helped stop one of CU’s runs to cut Utah’s deficit. Coach K said in the post game that Tyler was battling a scary flu, and was questionable to play.

A nice win for the Utes, even if it wasn’t pretty. Now the focus turns to Collette’s ankle, which isn’t broken, for next week’s tournament. Without Collette, it’ll be tough for Utah to make a big push, because he gets some big baskets down low when Utah needs them. He’s been so good the last month or so, and that’ll be painful if he can’t go for the Utes.

Larry K post game quotes:

On being without Collette for the majority of the game …I never even thought about it until now, once you’re in the foxhole trying to survive, I thought Chris and Jayce gave us enough rebounds and stops at the end. We had a shot blocking presence with Chris, he got his hands on quite a few. The scary part about the whole thing is that we haven’t had Tyler the past two days due to the flu, we didn’t know if he was even going to be available to play. So, things got a little lean but it was a terrific first half, I thought that it was a tale of two halves. Fortunately, we had guys like Sedrick and Justin step up and make some big plays, we finally got them to miss and got some rebounds. Shorthanded is good, we’ve got a bunch of guys that can play and we got them some reps. Heading into three games here to accomplish the next goal, we obviously need a bunch of guys, hopefully we’ll get David back in the mix and get some guys healthy.

On getting the No. 3 seed in the Pac-12 tournament …I’ve been talking about that for quite some time. Four or five weeks ago when the league was jumbled up, I said that we weren’t going to stop shooting for that until somebody told me it was mathematically impossible. I was surprised when somebody said that Stanford won and if we won, we were guaranteed third. That was about the simplest solution that I have heard in any of the scenarios that could have happened.

On what Justin Bibbins meant tonight and the whole season as well …Big time baskets. He didn’t put us into a position where we were getting into the single possessions. It seemed like when it got close, he hit two big threes. Leadership, he’s been doing that all year. He’s gutty and grinds it out. It was terrific, heck of a way to have his senior night departure. Not sure where we would be without him.