You know, it hasn’t always been easy for this Utah team this year, as evident by their 16-14 record, and sub-.500 record in conference play at 7-11, but they can battle. Sure, some games have gotten away from them, and going winless in conference play on the road is bad, (just imagine if they won 1⁄3 of those games where they’d be seeded in the league), but they rarely gave up. Going into this CU game for the last game of the regular season without Rylan Jones, who missed the game due to injury, against a team that whooped them in Boulder earlier in the season, I think it wouldn’t have surprised many of us to maybe see a double-digit loss. While CU has been struggling as of late, they were once ranked and are one of the more dangerous teams in this league when right.
Opening the game, it kind of looked like Utah may be behind the eight ball, falling back 12-6 and not getting into much of a rhythm until the 15 minute mark of the game. Utah was led by Both Gach, who had 16 of his 28 points in the first half, and Alphonso Plummer, who had 21 points, really gave the Utes the lift they needed in that opening half to keep it within arms reach at 41-33 at half.
Utah battled in that second half, jumping out to a 7-0 run off the bat, with the sharp shooting of Plummer. Utah briefly took their first lead of the game at 47-46, but McKinley Wright, who seems to have been at CU for like 14 years, hit a big three to give the Buffs the lead back. It was a bit of a game of cat and mouse for much of the rest of the half. CU went on a run to open up a bit of a lead, but Utah wouldn’t let it get too big, and would reel CU back in by bringing it to within a possession.
Things felt a little different about this game when Mikael Jantunen got a big offensive rebound, which led to a critical three from Plummer, which gave Utah the lead at 60-59. Tyler Bey’s hit a short jumper to put CU back on top 61-60 with 1:33 left to play. Jantunen knock down a pair of free throws with 46 seconds remaining in the game to give Utah back the lead. Seemingly Utah looked to take the game in regulation when Brandon Carlson got called for a questionable travel, and that followed with a Bey three point play to give CU the 64-62 lead with 19 seconds left. Gach made a very smart play with the clock winding down, and instead of settling for a tough jumper, he drove and hit a little floater to the time the game and send it to OT.
Overtime got really interesting in the waning seconds, as CU took a 2 point lead at 72-70. Timmy Allen got fouled with a chance to tie the game, but hit just one of the two free throws. At that point, with under 10 seconds left, it’s not over, but it looked like an uphill climb. Down just one Gach got a quick foul on Wright, on an almost drawn charge, but not quite. Wright missed the front end of the one-and-one, and instead of taking the time out, the ball was left in Gach’s hands. Gach may have waiting a bit too long, and had to take a hard contested three point shot form the angle left which was just short, and the game appeared to be over. But within all the madness, and everyone watching the ball, like myself, Wright fouled Gach on the three point attempt by not giving Gach a landing zone. Down one point with three free throws with .6 seconds left, I was prepared for the worse. Gach nailed the first... the biggest. Then he calmly hit the second giving the Utes the lead, and likely the win. The next shot, as was the smart play, Gach attempted to miss it, but ended up banking it in giving Utah the two point lead. Fortunately, Wright missed the half court heave and the Utes walked away with the win.
The win locks Utah into the No. 9 seed in the Pac-12 Tournament next week, and they’ll play the opening game against Oregon State. Utah split with OSU this year, so it will be an interesting matchup to say the least. The question is will Utah be able to have the services of Jones. Unfortunately for the Utes, if they get past the Beavs, the Ducks will be waiting, and we know how that story usually plays out.
Regardless, it’s at least one more game for this squad this year, as their future beyond the Pac-12 tournament is very much in the air.