The evidence suggests Utah is a second-half team at home in conference play, and Saturday’s win over Colorado only strengthened that argument.
The Runnin’ Utes broke a 31-31 halftime score against the Buffaloes by taking control early in the second half before holding on for a 73-68 win.
“I feel we started getting stops, and then I think we’ve played pretty well in the second half here,” Utah senior guard Gabe Madsen said. “It’s just getting stops and sharing the ball and making shots. It always helps.”
There were several factors that went the Utes’ way in the final 20 minutes against Colorado.
Utah scored 12 of its 21 fast break points after halftime, perhaps none more emphatic than Madsen’s steal and slam with 4:08 to play that gave Utah a 12-point lead.
Madsen scored 15 of his 21 points in the second half on the way to a 7 of 12 shooting effort from the wily veteran.
That included two 3-pointers in the first three minutes of the second half, part of a 17-7 run to give the Utes a 48-38 lead with 12:30 to play.
Utah coach Craig Smith said the team’s been cognizant of making sure Madsen, a gym rat, gets the rest he needs to be at his best, and it paid off Saturday.
“He had a lot more juice to him today on both sides of the ball and did a great job. We put him on a lot of different guys defensively,” Smith said.
Colorado made just two of its first 13 field goals in the second half — the only two made field goals were Tristan Da Silva 3-pointers in the first three minutes. It took almost eight minutes before the Buffaloes finally hit a third field goal.
Utah made 11 of 16 free throws in the second half, including 7 of 10 in the final minute, to wrap up a game where Colorado cut the Utes’ once 13-point lead down to three on three different occasions over the game’s final 1:02.
“I just think sometimes that stuff is contagious. At the same time, I know it’s crazy to say this, I think we’re a good free-throw shooting team. I just, I do. I know we haven’t shown that and you’ve got to be able to show that when you’re on the floor, but I feel very confident in those guys,” Smith said.
Utah ended up making 14 of 20 free throws in the win, a welcome improvement from the line after some recent struggles.
“Every single one of those guys that went to the line down the stretch, we felt very very good and comfortable with the ball in their hands. It was a big key tonight to be able to make them and also get to the line 20 times,” Smith said.
In their six Pac-12 home games, including Saturday’s contest, the Utes have outscored their opposition in the second half.
In several, they’ve dominated after halftime: the Utes outscored UCLA by 36 after intermission, Oregon State by 16, Washington by 16 and Washington State by 20.
In the last two, Utah has outscored its opponents by a combined nine points, but the Utes made those points count in tight wins over Oregon and Colorado.
“We’re not perfect, but we have a great locker room, so it was big to get this one. And now we’ve got a really tough stretch obviously this week with Arizona schools coming in, and we’re going to have to be really on point with both of these teams.” — Utah coach Craig Smith
The ending Saturday may have gotten a bit closer than fans and the team would have liked, as KJ Simpson and his 12 points in the final two minutes kept the Buffaloes within striking distance late.
Those free throws ended up playing a big role in the Utes holding on for a victory, though.
So, too, did the return of Utah center Lawson Lovering, who was playing for the first time since Jan. 14 when he suffered a foot injury against Stanford
He scored seven of his nine points and had all eight of his rebounds after intermission.
“I think it was super big. This was his former school. He’s a big guy,” Utah guard Deivon Smith said of Lovering’s return. “When he puts his hands up, he gets a lot of deflections and things like that. He moves very well and he competes, so just getting him back and the extra body to help the bigs out was very key.”
That all sets up another pair of crucial home games, with No. 11 Arizona and Arizona State visiting the Huntsman Center next week.
“We’re not perfect, but we have a great locker room, so it was big to get this one,” Utah’s coach said. “And now we got a really tough stretch obviously this week with Arizona schools coming in, and we’re going to have to be really on point with both of these teams.”