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Buffaloes pull away in 4th quarter, beat Utah 76-65 in Pac-12 opener

The Buffs played in front of a packed house.

NCAA Basketball: Washington at Colorado Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Pac-12 play kicked off with a bang for the Buffaloes on Saturday, as the 7,383 fans in attendance at CUEC – the biggest regular season crowd in over 20 years – were treated to a top 12 matchup against Utah that lived up to the hype. After three and a half quarters of back-and-forth basketball that featured 11 lead changes, the Buffs outscored Utah 23-4 over the final eight minutes in a 76-65 win that was as entertaining as it was impressive.

Jaylyn Sherrod was the star on Saturday, quite literally from the Buffs’ first two points of the game. She finished the day with a career-high 34 points, and was perfect from the field (5-5) with 13 points in the 4th quarter. On an afternoon when three Buffs starters (Quay Miller, Aaronette Vonleh, and Frida Formann) missed significant minutes because of early foul trouble, Sherrod almost single-handedly kept Utah pulling away, scoring 15 of the Buffs’ 33 first half points.

The Utes’ largest lead of the game came with eight minutes left in the 4th, when Inês Vieira hit a layup to make it 61-53. That would be the last Utah bucket for over five minutes of game clock, as a 13-0 Buffs run gave them the lead (with an emphatic Sherrod And-1 which had the place rocking) for good with about six minutes left.

Senior forward Alissa Pili was far and away Utah’s best player, as the 2022-23 Pac-12 Player of the Year led the team in points (27), rebounds (10) and assists (5). But the Buffs managed to make Pill struggle in the 4th, holding the league’s leading scorer to six points on 2-5 shooting, including 0-3 from three. As a team, CU held Utah – which came into Saturday as the best three point shooting team in the Pac-12 – to 5-20 (25%) from beyond the arc, way below their season average (41%).

Getting some extended minutes, especially in the first half, Sara-Rose Smith gave the Buffs’ offense a real spark with a 11-point, 12-rebound double-double off the bench. Smith, who came into Saturday averaging 15 minutes a game, played 23 minutes and was perfect from the field (5-5). And after only scoring six points in the first half, Vonleh came alive in the 4th quarter, scoring 10 of her 12 second half points in the final eight minutes.

With the win, their second over a ranked opponent so far, the Buffs improve to 11-1. Up next is a two-game weekend in Arizona, with road games against the Wildcats on the 5th and the Sun Devils on the 7th.