SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Colorado players figured they’d get more of a fight from Utah on Saturday than they did in a 73-33 New Year’s Eve blowout in the Pac-12 Conference debut for both teams.
And they did, with the Utes rallying from a nine-point deficit to tie the game with 4:23 remaining.
But the Buffaloes managed to hang on and execute down the stretch, staying alive in the conference race with a 55-48 win.
“I was proud of our guys,” Colorado coach Tad Boyle said. “The last four minutes they buckled down and did what they had to do. (Utah) made a run at us and our guys handled it. To not play your best and win a game is a sign of progress.”
Sophomore forward Andre Roberson continued to be a bright spot for Colorado (17-8, 9-4). He had 12 points and 15 rebounds, vaulting him to No. 9 on the Buffs’ all-time single-season rebounding list.
Austin Dufault added 11 points, and Askia Booker contributed eight off the bench.
It was a different story for Colorado guard Carlon Brown, who suffered through a miserable shooting performance. He was 2 for 12 (1 of 5 from 3-point range) and finished with five points in his return to Salt Lake City, where he played three seasons for Utah.
Brown insisted the Utes were just another team and that he wasn’t going to get caught up in emotions.
But after getting booed during pregame introductions and each time he touched the ball early, he seemed out of sorts. He missed his first seven shots, including three from beyond the arc, and had one blocked.
He wasn’t the only one struggling early. Utah and Colorado were a combined 0 of 11 to start the game, and the Buffaloes were shooting just 29.6 percent at halftime.
Boyle said the difference was rebounding, as the Buffs held a 24-13 edge on the boards at the break.
“Our program is predicated on defense and rebounding,” Boyle said. “We didn’t let our frustrations on offense affect our defense and that’s a sign of progress.”
Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak also saw progress, though the loss was Utah’s seventh straight. Saturday the Utes lost by seven. Seven weeks ago they lost by 40.
“We put ourselves in position and battled back,” said Krystkowiak, in his first year at Utah. “I am super proud of the team. There is no quit in them. They are continuing to get better and fighting. That means a lot to this university and our staff.”
Jason Washburn led Utah (5-20, 2-11) with 16 points and 10 rebounds. Chris Hines added 12 points on four 3-pointers.
The Utes trailed by as many as nine points in the second half, but tied the score at 44 with 4:23 remaining. Colorado then went on a 6-0 run, Dufault got a late block and the Buffs sank key free throws down the stretch to secure the win.
Colorado led 22-19 at the break, then outscored Utah 11-5 to open the second half to take a 33-24 lead. Brown’s steal and fast-break layup capped the run.
Anthony Odunsi’s running jumper and a layup by Washburn pulled Utah within 35-30, Hines’ 3-pointer cut the gap to 38-35, and Cedric Martin pulled the Utes within 2 with Utah’s sixth 3-pointer.
Odunsi then tied it at 40 with 6:25 remaining.
With the score tied at 44, Spencer Dinwiddie and Roberson hit field goals for Colorado and Nate Tomlinson added a pair of free throws.
Utah got no closer than four the rest of the way.
“We are proud of our team’s effort, but at the end of the day, that doesn’t fix the feeling of losing,” Washburn said.
For Boyle, there was simply relief.
“You look around the country now and you look at conference games … you see a lot of teams that might struggle on the road to win a close game,” he said. “It happens in our league, it happens in every league and this was just one of those games.”
Luckily, Roberson was playing the way he did against Utah in the first game when he had 17 points and 17 rebounds.
The dynamic sophomore now needs to average just under 9 rebounds over CU’s final four regular-season games to break Burdette Haldorson’s 57-year-old record of 346 set during the 1954-55 season.
NOTES: The 1976-77 Utah men’s basketball team, which went 22-7 overall and captured the Western Athletic Conference championship, was honored at halftime.
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)