On senior night, when the Runnin Utes honored the class of players that helped bring them back from the dead four years ago, it was a group effort that guided them to a come from behind win at the Huntsman Center over Colorado.
After an ugly opening stretch to the game where neither team could find the bottom of the bucket and the two combining for just 22 points in the first 14:35 and only 41 in the first half overall, Colorado used a 14-0 run in the second half to take a 12 point lead with under 9 minutes to go. Then Utah got back to playing Utah basketball, coming right back at the Buffs with a 19-0 run of their own as senior Brandon Taylor and Jordan Loveridge ignited Utah's burst and eventually led to a 57-55 win.
While neither Taylor not Loveridge had great games statistically, they were the catalysts for the big run that turned the tide for the Utes and sent them into the Pac 12 tournament on a 7 game winning streak. Taylor's pair of free throws to put the Utes up 3 with 34 seconds to go showed just how far he's come mentally since the Oregon State game, making both shoots look easy. Jakob Poeltl, playing in what was likely his final game at the Huntsman Center, led the team with 16 point, 13 rebounds, and 5 blocks, helping his case for the Pac 12 player of the year award.
Defensively, Utah was tremendous all game long, and we know the old saying that defense wins championships. With the way Utah has played D over the last month and a half, they're looking like a Final 4 type of team on defense and that was clearly on display against Colorado as they held the Buffaloes to only 30% shooting from the field. That defensive effort was another team effort, led by Poeltl and the seniors, as Utah looks to be playing their best team D of the season.
Where has Kyle Kuzma gone? The sophomore forward has disappeared the last couple of games, looking disinterested and out of sync. He posted a bagel in the scoring column, and another one in the assist department. He did a good job defensively when matched up with Colorado big man Josh Scott when he had the assignment, but has only 15 points in the last 4 games and will need to be more aggressive if the Utes are going to win the Pac 12 tournament.
The rest of the team offensively? An off night in the shooting department happens, and we've said it before and we'll say it again; it's encouraging when Utah isn't playing well offensively that they can still get a win over a quality team. It bodes well for tournament play when you're going to run into tough defensive teams and/or have a poor shooting night, but can still get a W.
Now Utah will get a few days of rest before heading to Las Vegas for the Pac 12 Tournament where they'll face the winner of the 7/10 matchup between USC and UCLA, trying to continue their late season run, grab their first conference tournament crown, and improve their seeding for an NCAA tournament that many will like them to make a long run in.