Snapshot: CU Buffs MBB 69, Utah Utes 60
Turning point: CU never trailed after scoring nine consecutive points midway through the first half on three 3-pointers — one from Jalen Gabbidon, and two from Tristan da Silva.
Buff of the game: It was a team effort for the shorthanded Buffs, but Julian Hammond III subbed for KJ Simpson in the starting lineup and recorded 15 points, five assists, five steals and three rebounds.
What’s next?: The Buffs open play in the Pac-12 Conference tournament as the ninth seed on Wednesday against eighth-seeded Washington (1 p.m. MT, Pac-12 Network).
With KJ Simpson suddenly out of the lineup for good and Tristan da Silva relegated to a reserve role after suffering an ankle injury against UCLA, most of Colorado’s scoring punch began the regular season finale on the bench.
In fact, the starting five head coach Tad Boyle turned to on Saturday against Utah took the floor with a combined scoring average of 24.6. Or about 4.9 points per player.
All things considered, it turned out to be one of the gutsiest performances of the season by the CU men’s basketball team.
The Buffs capped a rough regular season by taking down the Utes for a 69-60 victory at the CU Events Center. With the win, CU avoided what would have been just the second sub-.500 regular season in 13 years under Boyle.
The Senior Day victory ended a run of four losses in five games for the Buffs, while Utah suffered its fifth consecutive loss to close the regular season.
At around halftime, CU was cemented into the ninth seed for next week’s Pac-12 Conference tournament in Las Vegas thanks to Oregon’s win against Stanford. The Buffs will play eighth-seeded Washington in the opening game of the first round on Wednesday. CU will remain shorthanded for the conference tournament, as after Saturday’s win Boyle announced that Simpson will miss the entire Pac-12 tourney after contracting mono.
“Senior Night is always special, and as a coach you just cross your fingers and hope to heck your team plays well and you play well enough to win,” Boyle said. “We did today. It’s been an up and down year, there’s no question about that. But the challenge I gave our team before the game today was, we’re either going to finish this year with a winning record or a losing record in the regular season. Your choice. Our guys really gutted it out and played their tails off.”
Given the revamped lineup, Boyle made the rare decision of opening the game in a zone defense. It wasn’t the plan to remain in zone the entire contest, but after the Utes went 2-for-15 on 3-pointers in the first half, the Buffs stuck with it. Utah’s final field goal percentage of .333 was the third-lowest by a CU foe this season, and the second-lowest in Pac-12 play.
“We weren’t planning on going zone the full game. It’s something coach talked to us about,” CU wing Nique Clifford said. “We were going to start off in zone, see how it went, and go man. Surprisingly it worked out. It worked out really well for us, so we just stayed in it. A lot of guys stepped up in different positions that they’re not usually used to playing. We ran them off the (3-point) line and we were rebounding well. It was a really good game plan by the coaches for us.”
The Buffs scored nine consecutive points on a Jalen Gabbidon 3-pointer, followed by a pair of 3s from da Silva, midway through the first half and never trailed afterward. CU led 33-21 at halftime and opened up a 16-point lead on a pair of Ethan Wright 3-pointers early in the second half.
Da Silva ultimately displayed few problems with his ankle, finishing 5-for-8 with 15 points. Clifford posted his first career double-double with 14 points and a career-high 11 rebounds. With Simpson sidelined, Julian Hammond III received a start and responded with 15 points, five assists, three rebounds and five steals with only one turnover in 36 minutes.
“(Friday) at practice I felt pretty comfortable,” da Silva said. “We taped it up pretty good at practice and I gave it a go, and it went pretty well. So I figured I could jump out there and see how it goes. It felt stable enough to push through and play.”
Colorado 69, Utah 60
UTAH (17-14, 10-10 Pac-12)
Be.Carlson 1-4 0-0 3, Br.Carlson 5-15 3-4 13, Anthony 1-7 2-4 4, Stefanovic 4-15 0-0 12, Worster 5-8 4-4 15, Madsen 3-10 0-0 9, Holt 1-1 0-0 2, Keita 1-1 0-0 2, Brenchley 0-0 0-0 0, Exacte 0-2 0-0 0, Tarlac 0-0 0-0 0, Saunders 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 21-63 9-12 60.
COLORADO (16-15, 8-12)
Lovering 3-8 0-0 6, Clifford 5-8 2-2 14, Hammond 5-12 5-5 15, O’Brien 2-3 0-0 4, Wright 3-9 2-4 10, da Silva 5-8 2-3 15, Gabbidon 2-5 0-0 5, Allen 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 25-54 11-14 69.
Halftime — Colorado 33-21. 3-point field goals — Utah 9-30 (Stefanovic 4-12, Madsen 3-9, Be.Carlson 1-2, Worster 1-3, Exacte 0-1, Br.Carlson 0-3), Colorado 8-21 (da Silva 3-5, Clifford 2-3, Wright 2-6, Gabbidon 1-3, Allen 0-1, Hammond 0-3). Fouled Out — Holt. Rebounds — Utah 33 (Br.Carlson 10), Colorado 39 (Clifford 11). Assists — Utah 14 (Stefanovic 5), Colorado 12 (Hammond 5). Total Fouls — Utah 15, Colorado 11. A — 8,432.
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