BOULDER Colorado produced an outstanding defensive effort and a balanced offensive performance Saturday to carve out a 71-63 win over Utah at the CU Events Center.
The Buffs held the Pac-12's best 3-point shooting team to a season-low 19.2 percent day from long distance and put four players in double-figure scoring, led by a 17-point, 10-rebound effort from sophomore Tyler Bey.
CU improved to 17-11 overall and 8-8 in Pac-12 play with two games remaining while Utah dropped to 15-13, 9-7. The win moved Colorado into a tie for sixth in the conference standings, just one game out of fourth place and a first-round bye in the Pac-12 tournament.
The Buffs led for much of the game, taking the lead for good midway through the first half and never trailing again. But they could never completely shake the Utes, and it took a pair of 3-pointers in the final two minutes — the first from Lucas Siewertwith 1:41 remaining and the second from McKinley Wright IVwith 48 seconds on the clock — to salt away the win.
Bey had 15 of his 17 points in the first half, and finished with a 7-for-10 day from the field for his third straight double-double, his 12th of the season and 14th of his career. D'Shawn Schwartz had 16 points and six rebounds for Colorado, Evan Battey added 15 points and four rebounds and Wright had 10 points and three assists.
Wright's biggest contribution came on the defensive end, where he harassed Utah's Sedrick Barefield all night. The Utes' leading scorer did finish with 19 points, but he shot just 7-for-16 from the floor, including 2-for-8 from 3-point range.
"Obviously a great win for our team and our program, especially in March," CU head coach Tad Boyle said. "It's so hard to win basketball games this time of year, especially when you're playing against a quality team and quality program like Utah. I've got a lot of respect for their coaches, their players. I say this when we play Arizona a lot — you have to beat them. The same is true for Utah, you have to beat Utah because they're not going to beat themselves."
Overall, CU held Utah to 39.3 percent shooting from the floor (24-for-61) and just 5-for-26 from 3-point range. It tied for the Utes' fewest 3-pointers this year and was their worst shooting percentage from beyond the arc this season.
CU also also forced 12 Utah turnovers and reaped 16 points off the miscues.
"I thought our defensive toughness, our defensive identity tonight, really exhibited itself," Boyle said. "It has to. That's something that has to be a constant. It doesn't guarantee that you're going to win, but it gives you a chance."
HOW IT HAPPENED: After scoring the last five points of the first half — including a buzzer-beating 3-pointer from Schwartz — Colorado led by nine at intermission, 39-28.
The Utes, however, cut the deficit to four on a Timmy Allen 3-pointer with 15:53 to go before the Buffs answered with a 9-2 run to go back up by 11, getting a three-point play from Alex Strating with 12:33 to go to bump the Buffs' cushion to 51-40.
That pattern then played itself out for the rest of the second half. The Buffs built their lead to as much as 13 at several different junctures, only to see the Utes cut the deficit back to single digits each time.
"Utah's a team that's never out of it because they shoot the three so well," Boyle said. "They came back from 22 down to win a game this year, they came back from 17 down to win a game this year. I thought our focus pretty much stayed true to form for 40 minutes. That's what we've been asking of these guys and they pretty much answered the bell tonight."
Along with playing solid defense all night, the Buffs came up with clutch shots on the offensive end in crucial moments. Schwartz's 3-pointer to end the first half was a huge momentum boost and Strating's 3-point play on an offensive rebound was also a momentum switch.
The Buffs then got a huge 3-pointer from Siewert with 1:41 left to play — his only basket of the night — before Wright put the Utes away with his trey from the top of the key with 48 seconds remaining. Siewert's basket ended a 5-0 Utah run while Wright's bucket gave CU a 10-point lead, 69-59.
"All of those shots were so timely," Boyle said. "Alex is always in the right spot. ... D'Shawn's three at the end of the half, huge play, going into halftime. And Lucas' three — the only one he made all night, but it was a timely one and a big one. You have to do that."
The Buffs also received a stellar effort from Battey, who scored eight of his 15 points in the second half while shooting 6-for-9 for the game.
"I thought he really did a good job of taking his time," Boyle said. "When Evan catches it in the post, Tyler catches it in the post, Lucas catches it in the post — slowing down is a key. I thought Evan slowed down tonight offensively. He's important to us. You can just see him coming, each and every game. He's an important piece for us."
Battey has improved steadily throughout Pac-12 play as he regains his form following a two-year layoff.
"I've always had the ability to score in the post and drive the ball," Battey said. "But I'm getting more and more comfortable."
Early on, Colorado threatened to blow the game open quickly. CU hit its first three field goal attempts and jumped out to an 8-0 lead while Utah went scoreless in the first five minutes.
But the Utes answered with a 9-0 run to take the lead while the Buffs endured and 0-for-8 stretch from the field. CU finally regained its shooting eye, however, and put together a 9-0 run to turn a 14-12 deficit into a 21-12 lead. Schwartz had four points in the run while Bey and Battey both added baskets.
The Buffs slowly built their lead to as much as nine with 3:11 to go in the half, 30-21, on a Battey bucket before the Utes scored five straight. CU, though, answered with five points in the final 40 seconds of the half, getting a pair of free throws from Bey and a Schwartz 3-pointer at the buzzer to take a 35-26 edge at intermission.
Bey finished the half with 15 points and seven rebounds while Schwartz added nine and Battey seven. Gatling had four of Colorado's 11 assists in the half.
PARQUET INJURED: Boyle announced the freshman guard Eli Parquet suffered a knee injury in Thursday's practice and is officially "day to day."
"We'll know more about that on Monday," Boyle said, but added that Parquet might not be available for next week's final two regular season games.
Parquet's injury came on a day when Wright missed practice with the flu and Shane Gatling could not practice because of a toe injury.
"When I left the Events Center on Thursday I had a total of six (available) scholarship athletes," Boyle said. Wright and Gatling, however, both practiced Friday and played Saturday.
TURNING POINT: The Buffs kept the Utes at bay for most of the evening, but it was Siewert's 3-pointer with 1:41 to go that gave Colorado a nine-point lead that seemingly took the heart out of the Utes.
WHAT IT MEANS: Colorado is still in contention for a top-four conference finish with two regular season games to go — and both are at home. One of the teams ahead of the Buffs, UCLA, visits Boulder on Thursday.
KEY STATISTICS: Colorado held Utah to just 5-for-26 shooting from 3-point range, and also forced 12 Utah turnovers. CU had just nine turnovers, only the second time this season the Buffs have had single-digit turnovers, and outscored the Utes 16-4 in points off turnovers.
QUOTEWORTHY: "These next games are really important. If you lose this game, you go to 7-9 and drop yourself out of the muck. At least we're back in the muck now. The muck is pretty big and the only way to get out of it is to continue to win games."— CU head coach Tad Boyle
"We didn't make shots. That was the biggest difference. … Give them (Colorado) credit, they played really well." — Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak
NEXT UP: The Buffs continue their three-game homestand to wrap up the regular season with a 7 p.m. game Thursday against UCLA, followed by a 3 p.m. game Saturday against USC.