SALT LAKE CITY Colorado's first game without sophomore point guard McKinley Wright turned into a long 40 minutes for the Buffs on Sunday.
Colorado started slowly and couldn't find its footing until it was too late, as Utah collected a 78-69 win over the slumping Buffs at the Huntsman Center.
The loss, CU's seventh straight on the Utes' home floor, dropped the Buffs to 10-7 overall and 1-4 in Pac-12 play. Colorado has now dropped six of its last eight. The Utes improved to 9-8, 3-2.
Wright did not play because of a shoulder injury suffered in last weekend's loss to Washington. Sunday's game was the first he has missed as a Buff.
But the Buffs needed more than just Wright, as Utah led by as much as 26 in the first half and 28 early in the second before a late Colorado rally narrowed the gap to a relatively respectable margin. CU cut Utah's lead to 10 points, 70-60, with 3:28 to go on a Daylen Kountz layup, but the Utes managed to hold Colorado off down the stretch for the win.
Shane Gatling finished with 21 points, Lucas Siewert and Kountz each added 13 and D'Shawn Schwartz had 11.
Sedrick Barefield led Utah with 22, with 17 of those coming in the first half, when he hit five of eight 3-point attempts to help Utah to a 41-19 halftime lead. Freshman Timmy Allen had a 21-point, 10-rebound double-double for the Utes.
The Buffs' two halves Sunday were starkly different. After committing 11 first-half turnovers that led to 14 Utah points in the opening 20 minutes, CU did not have a turnover after intermission. Also, after scoring just 19 points in the opening half — CU's lowest production for a half since a 2016 loss at Oregon State — the Buffs scored 50 in the second half.
"Our sense of urgency, our toughness — whatever you want to call it — the fact of the matter is we're not executing game plans very well," CU head coach Tad Boyle said. "Offensively, this team is really hard to figure out, how we score 19 points in the first half and 50 in the second half. We have 11 turnovers in the first half, zero in the second half. It's a really hard team to figure out. The lack of consistency makes it really difficult for me and our staff to coach. We have to figure that out."
HOW IT HAPPENED: Thanks to an early barrage of 3-pointers from the Utes, the Buffs fell behind early and watched Utah build its lead to as much as 26 in the first half. Utah hit eight of 13 3-point tries in the opening half — including a 5-for-8 effort from log distance from Barefield — and the Buffs compounded their problems by committing 11 turnovers in the first 20 minutes, which the Utes converted into 14 points.
The deciding stretch of the game came early. With 15:33 still to go in the first half, the Buffs pulled to within 9-7 on a Kountz jumper. But the Utes then answered with a 12-0 run to take control, helped by three consecutive Colorado turnovers that led to Utah dunks. By the 5:49 mark of the first half, the Utes' run had reached 25-4, and Utah built its cushion to 41-15 before Colorado finally hit a pair of field goals in the final minutes to close the gap to 41-19 by halftime.
"It was an atrocious start," Boyle said. "This team's really hard to figure out. We turn it over 11 times the first half against a team that doesn't press and plays zone and the second half we don't turn it over at all. We score 19 points the first half, we score 50 points the second half. It's like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and there's no consistency."
To their credit, the Buffs didn't fold up the tent. After Utah then built it lead to 28 early in the second half, the Buffs slowly chipped away at the lead. Gatling fueled a mini run with nine straight points, and Colorado began a comeback. A pair of 3-pointers from Siewert and Gatling helped CU narrow the deficit to 12 with five minutes to play before a Kountz layup following a timeout pulled the Buffs to within 10 with more than three minutes to play.
But the Utes had enough in the tank to keep the Buffs at bay down the stretch. Gatling's pull-up jumper just before the final buzzer cut the final deficit to nine.
TURNING POINT: Utah's 12-0 run after Colorado had pulled to within 9-7 put the game away for all intents and purposes. The Utes took advantage of five turnovers on six CU possessions in the run.
SECOND HALF SURGES: In five Pac-12 games this year, the Buffs have been outscored 197-145 in the first half. In the second half, they have outscored their opponents 203-165.
WHAT IT MEANS: The Buffs now find themselves in a tie for 10th place with Washington State in the conference standings, with two more road games on the horizon. CU needs to figure out a way to get some road wins in a hurry.
KEY STATISTICS: The Utes shot 40.9 percent from 3-point range (9-for-22) and 45.5 percent overall (25-for-55). The Buffs shot 40.6 percent (26-for-64), but hit just 30 percent of their shots (9-for-30) in their dismal first half. Colorado also gave up 21 fast break points, most coming after turnovers.
QUOTEWORTHY: "I just keep looking internally of what I can do. I'm not going to stop looking. This team obviously doesn't have quit in it. There's no doubt about that. But for us to win in this league — and it doesn't matter who we're playing — we have to understand a sense of urgency and the toughness factor. Not feeling sorry for yourself when you make a mistake, the heads going down, the body language. That stuff's for the birds. That's what losers do. We can't let that happen. There's some guys that we have to have some heart-to-heart talks with to make sure they can continue to stay positive and stay confident." — CU head coach Tad Boyle
NEXT UP: The Buffs head to the Bay Area next week for a pair of games, beginning with a 9 p.m. game Thursday at Cal, followed by a 6 p.m. game Saturday at Stanford.