Colorado's Final Stretch Starts With Utah

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

The feared three-game road trip to end the conference season is finally here. First up: Utah

Despite failing once again in one of their final games at the Coors Event Center (see: Stanford in 2011-12, Oregon St. last year) against Arizona last Saturday, the Buffs' resume for the NCAA Tournament still remains strong. They have a Top 30 RPI, a signature non-conference win over Kansas and most recently got a much needed win against Arizona St. Before Selection Sunday comes in less than three weeks, Colorado faces a brutal three-game stretch on the road against Utah, Stanford and Cal. First up is Utah.

The last time these teams met...

Colorado won 79-75 in overtime at the Coors Event Center. The Buffs were down 47-35 early in the second half, yet the team persevered thanks to double figure scoring outputs from Josh Scott, Askia Booker, Xavier Johnson, Wesley Gordon and Xavier Talton. This was the beginning of Askia Booker establishing himself as a facilitator and all-around player as he added eight rebounds and seven assists to his 18 points. Josh Scott quietly contributed 20 points and 10 rebounds. The Buffs were able to win the rebounding margin over the Utes 42-24 and collected 17 offensive rebounds and limited Jordan Loveridge to a season-low four points. Delon Wright, however, had 17 points, 11 assists and seven steals. Utah needed someone else aside from Wright to step up, but it never happened, allowing the Buffs to prevail in overtime.

This time...

Colorado will travel to Salt Lake City where Utah has only lost twice this year. Both of those losses came in overtime against Oregon and Arizona. That doesn't bode well for Colorado, as they have never been a great road team, and is averaging .93 points per possession on the road since Spencer Dinwiddie's injury. They did, however, average 1.14 points per possession the last time they faced Utah.

When the Buffs showdown with the Utes, look for rebounding to be a factor once again. The Buffs have the second best offensive rebounding percentage in the conference and Utah is 10th in the Pac-12 when it comes to defending against the offensive glass. From beyond the arc, on both sides of the ball, Colorado is at a disadvantage. Although Utah is a middling team when it comes to three-point shooting hitting at a 34.6 percent clip, they shot 45 percent in their last meeting with the Buffaloes. And it doesn't help that Colorado is the second worst team in the conference when it comes to defending the three-point line as teams shoot 37.3 percent against them. On offense, the Buffs don't fare much better. They've shot 3-of-19 from three in their past two games and only have made 32 percent of their attempts this season, which puts them at 11th in the conference.

Another advantage that may lead Utah to a victory is the turnover battle. The Buffs currently rank 11th in the Pac-12 in turnover percentage whereas the Utes are fourth in the conference forcing turnovers. The last time Colorado played Utah they turned it over 15 times and in the Utes' past two games against Arizona and Arizona St., they forced 13 in each contest.

If Colorado can refrain from launching too many ill-advised threes and divvy up the scoring again while controlling the glass, they have a good shot at responding to their loss against Arizona with a victory. Nevertheless, they are on the road in an extremely tough environment. The Utes' defense isn't the best in the country like the Wildcats, but if the offense shrivels up like it did against Arizona with too much forced dribbling through traffic and wild contested shots, the season long reeling on the road will continue.

Final Word...

The drubbing they suffered against Arizona should be behind them. Last Saturday's game established what most Colorado fans already knew: the Buffs can't take down the conference elites like UCLA and Arizona without Dinwiddie, but they have and can hold their own against the middle of the pack. They've split with Arizona St. and Washington and beat Utah. Now, they have another chance to see what they can do against the Utes and will then face off against Stanford and Cal, two teams that are currently tied with them in the Pac-12 standings. Colorado could assure themselves a berth in the field of 68 if they win one of their final remaining three games. And there won't be better preparation for a potential game in the NCAA Tournament than these three contests. It's time to see what they have left.

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