Going into the game against the Utes not many people expected much from the Buffaloes. After Xavier Johnson went down with a high ankle sprain, people expected even less. Nevertheless, Colorado still put up valiant effort against one of the best teams in the country. The Buffs did provide several problems that must be fixed, but at the same time CU showed signs of life that they are improving. In weeks like these, it is important to follow Tyler Ziskin's new rule:
So do we all agree not to overreact when the Buffs get smoked by Utah and Arizona over the next week? Please?— Tyler Ziskin (@TZiskBuff) January 7, 2015
The Utah Recap: The Buffs came out of the gate strong, looking for a potential upset. The Buffs came out to an early lead and Utah stared to sweat. But with 13:42, Xavier Johnson came down awkwardly after missing a layup and immediately grabbed his foot. He would leave the game with a high ankle sprain. At that point, the Buffs led 12-8. After a small Utah run, Josh Scott put CU up 15-14 with 10:30 remaining in the first half. That would be the last time the Buffs led. Out of nowhere, the Utes exploded with a 15-0 run behind an impressive barrage of 3's and lockdown defense. Utah led 29-16, when CU broke their eight minute scoring drought, with 2:14 left to play. The Buffs managed to cut the Utes' lead to 31-21 at the half. Coming out of halftime, Colorado looked to close the gap even more so. An Askia Booker mid range jumper put the Buffs within eight, as CU trailed only 33-25 with 17:13. Then, well then Utah decided to let everybody know why they're one of the best teams in the country. In the blink of an eye, the Utes extended their lead to 23 points. The Utes punished Colorado with an incredible display of offense, highlighted by a Delon Wright dunk, in which he split three CU defenders and flushed it down with two hands. When ESPN went to commercial with 11:44 to play, Utah led 54-31. Still, the Utes would not stop. Only when the Buffs trailed 38-71 with 4:37 left and Bill Walton began expounding on his trip to Dinosaur National Monument, did Larry Krystkowiak call off his Utes. After the Utah scrubs checked in, the Buffs cut the lead a bit to close out the game. Ultimately, CU lost 49-74.
What Went Right: With a performance like the one the Buffs delivered on Wednesday night, there appears to be little that seemed to go right for the Buffaloes. However, there were indeed many times Colorado looked like a team that could actually make the NCAA tournament. The Buffs did an excellent job of starting the game strong against the Utes. Everybody was no doubt surprised with the Buffaloes early lead. They had great ball movement early on and spread out the Utah defense so they could get good looks in the paint. Colorado also took solid shots from the outside, for the most part. The Buffaloes had several great takes to the basket. Collier, Booker, and Hopkins all took strong drives and finished with contact, which led to fouls, baskets, as well as a few and-ones. Lastly, Jaron Hopkins finally had the game he needed to, now, unquestionably solidify his spot as a starter. Hopkins led the Buffaloes with 12 points, 2 rebounds, and steal as well. Jaron is the future of the Buffs and it is very nice to see him stepping into a leadership role on the team.
What Went Wrong: Once again, the demon of the three point line returned to haunt Colorado. On both of the large Utah runs, Colorado gave up several three pointers. The Buffaloes couldn't seem to get into good enough position to contest the three point shot against the Utes. The Buffs gave Utah several easy looks from deep, as they lost their men on defense too. Against Utah it is understandable to force them shoot from deep, as Delon Wright is such a threat to drive. However for that tactic to work, the Buffs cannot lose their men on defense. Since CU repeatedly lost their men, it almost would have been better to give up a partially contested two point layup than a wide open three pointer. Next, the Buffaloes must improve on their rebounding. Against Utah, the Buffs were out rebounded 37-30 overall, and 14-6 on the offensive glass. Colorado cannot go through the rest of this season expecting to win any game, if they give their opponent 14 second chances. Even the basement teams in the Pac-12 will have a chance to beat CU if they get that many second chances on offense. The rebounding conundrum could be contributed to Scott's bad back, still that is no excuse for Colorado as a team. The Buffs must also work on remaining an offensive threat when Askia Booker is not in the game. After Booker left the game for the half with his second foul, the Buffs could only muster up six points. At the same rate, they turned the ball over several times without Booker. While it is important to center the offense around the best player, it still has to be effective when that player is not on the court. That is something Tad has yet to figure out with Dinwiddie and now with Booker. Lastly, the Buffs must work on their free throw shooting percentage on the road. Collectively, CU went 12-21 from the charity stripe. Several of the misses from the line came in crucial moments, where Colorado had the opportunity to put pressure on the Utes. The Buffaloes must work on their concentration at the free throw line while on the road. This won't be an easy thing to do, but it must be done if Colorado wants to get any signature road win this season.
This loss was, without a doubt, a very tough one for the Buffaloes. Nevertheless, Colorado and its fans must remember to not get too low after each loss. The Pac-12 is a very turbulent conference this year, and anything can happen. Most importantly, the Buffs must learn everything they can from this loss and move on. Also as fans, we must continue to support the Buffaloes this season. We cannot scream for Tad to get fired in blowout losses, as that type of attitude only creates a negative, toxic atmosphere that only hurts the team. This was a bad loss no question, but CU must learn what they can from it, keep their noses to the grindstone, and prepare for Arizona.