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February 19, 2012It's rarely been pretty, but in each of Utah's six wins and all of its close losses, Utah has found a way to lull its opponents into a slow-paced, high-turnover, poor shooting contest. Saturday's game at the Jon M. Huntsman Center was no different, but this time the Utes could not hang on, despite staying close throughout most of the game.
The first half ended with Colorado holding a three point 22-19 lead, indicative of myriad missed shots by both squads. Utah's 19 points in the opening half was the sixth time this season the Utes have failed to score at least 20 points in a half. The lowest offensive output in a half came against Colorado on New Year's Eve in Boulder, where the Utes managed just 11 points in the first half. Utah would go on to lose that contest against the Buffs 73-33 loss, it's worst loss of the season.
Things were different in Salt Lake City, however, as Utah, on a 14-5 run tied the game up at the 4:50 mark of the second half. Utah continued to hang around, spending the next two minutes down by just four points, before the Utes began to foul Colorado, and the score broke open with Utah ultimately losing 55-48.
In the end, as in so many other losses this season, Utah missed shots, failed to rebound and turned the ball over in key moments of opportunity down the stretch. After the 40 point loss the last time these two teams met, the Utes were encouraged by their unwillingness to quit, but could not take solace in yet another moral victory; a term that has been thrown around fast and loose all season long.
"The moral victories are kind of wearing on us," said an unusually discouraged Larry Krystkowiak, who has had his time fighting an uphill battle all season long, and staying positive, for the most part.
With or without the label, Utah has no other choice but to take what positives that come its way in order to continue building a DI program back up from ground zero. With that in mind, Krystkowiak extracted what positives he could from Saturday's game at the Jon M. Huntsman Center.
Utah center Jason Washburn had his second double-double of the season with 16 points and 10 rebounds, leading all scorers in the contest. The double digit scoring performance was Washburn's third in the last four games.
"[Jason] is gaining more confidence. I think part of it is that our guys are doing a better job of feeding him when he's open, and he's doing a better job of asking for the ball," explained Krystkowiak of Washburn's sudden scoring spurt. "I thought that was a bright spot for us tonight offensively. He scored a third of our points, and we need to keep building off of that."
Junior guard Chris Hines knocked down four shots from behind the arc at crucial times to keep the Utes close at various points in the game to finish with 12 points.
Utah held Colorado to its third lowest point total of the season with its 55 points Saturday, well below their 69.8 average points per game. Colorado scored just 54 points in a loss to Wyoming, and 50 points in a loss to Cal.
"I thought we did a great job defensively, short of a few offensive rebounds we gave up. For the most part we kept them out of transition, and it just comes down to a couple of plays here and there," praised Krystkowiak. "I'm super proud of the team, and there is absolutely in them. They're continuing to get better, and they're fighting. That means a lot to this University, and to this staff."
Rebounds were a key contributor to the Utes' loss, as the much taller Buffs dominated the boards 46-28, including 11 offensive rebounds. Colorado forward Andre Roberson robbed the Utes of 16 rebounds by himself as the Utes had no answer for his presence under the basket.
Utah also found itself on the wrong side of a serious free throw deficit, with Colorado shooting 78.9% from the free throw line on 15-19 shooting, while the Utes got to the line just three times all game, knocking down two for a 66.7% average. Krystkowiak acknowledged the glaring discrepancy, but did not complain about the officiating.
"They're a really good team defensively, but for us to only shoot three free throws, I thought, was kind of an indication that we weren't aggressive enough," criticized Krystkowiak. "We looked a little bit hesitant, and they have some length and athleticism, and were real physical, and we just didn't have an answer to get ourselves to the free throw line."
Utah forced 12 turnovers, however, to help offset the deficit in rebounding, and despite all, stayed close, giving themselves a chance to win at the end.
"It's another one that we were in at the end, and it just got away from us. We're proud of our team's effort, but at the end of the game, it doesn't really fix the feeling of losing," explained a candid Jason Washburn. "Losing is losing. But once again, I'm proud of our team. We really hustled out there, and showed some heart."
A side story to Saturday's game was the return of former Ute Carlon Brown to the Huntsman Center. Brown was booed by the home crowd during the pre-game introduction, and again every time he handled the basketball throughout the course of the game.
Brown will remain a controversial figure in the annals of Utah Basketball history, after his fairly public dispute with former Utah head coach Jim Boylen, and the subsequent resignation and/or dismissal of former Ute players in the Boylen era, which eventually led to his termination.
Saturday's match-up featured Utah's Cedric Martin the 6-foot-4, 200 pound wing who most closely resembles Brown on the Utes' new look roster, who guarded Brown all day, holding him to just five points on 2-12 shooting, an important statistic, as Brown is Colorado's leading scorer, averaging 12.6 points per game.
Martin also had a quiet offensive performance and shot just 2-7 for five points on the night after having been defended by Brown, concluding in an anti-climatic stalemate overall, though Martin did dish out a game-high five assists.
Freshman Anthony Odunsi, who came into the program and the season with high expectations only to fall short early, came on strong Saturday, contributing six points, one assist and two steals, all in the midst of the Utes 14-5 run. Odunsi played 19 solid minutes in the contest, well over his 14.9 minutes per game, most of which came very early in the season, as Odunsi has seen limited time since the start of conference play prior to Saturday.
The Utes have a tough week ahead, as they play host to conference leader Cal, who beat the Utes handily, 81-45 in Berkeley in January, and Stanford, who narrowly defeated the Utes 68-65 in Palo Alto last month.