LAS VEGAS — Utah’s first-round win over Arizona State at the Pac-12 tournament sets the Runnin’ Utes up with an opportunity to earn another key victory Thursday night.

“We shot the ball pretty well and everybody was together. That’s what we need to advance.”

—  Utah guard Deivon Smith

That’s when No. 6 seed Utah will take on No. 3 seed Colorado in the tournament quarterfinals at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas (9:30 p.m. MDT, FS1).

While league leaders Arizona and Washington State are considered NCAA Tournament locks, things are less certain for Colorado and Utah, the conference’s next-best perceived NCAA options.

The Buffaloes, though, have played themselves into a strong position as an at-large option, as they enter the tournament on a six-game winning streak and are projected by nearly every major bracketologist to be in the NCAA 68-team field right now.

Utah, though, has work to do after a late-season swoon pushed them outside the bubble, though with a deep run in Las Vegas, with the right matchups (i.e., Quad 1), the Utes could play themselves back into the picture with Selection Sunday three days away.

First up is Colorado, which comes into the contest No. 26 in the NET rankings, a clear Quad 1 opponent for a Utah team that is No. 48 in the NET.

Runnin’ Utes coach Craig Smith understands the challenge ahead — his team lost at Colorado three weeks ago by 24, after beating the Buffaloes by five in their first meeting in Salt Lake City.

“They are very talented. KJ Simpson has played at an elite level all year long. Tristan da Silva has been around the league a long time, can do everything. J’Vonne Hadley is excellent, Luke O’Brien,” Smith said.

“They all understand who they are and what they are. And they play to their identity. And they play tough-nose defense as well. They’re a complete team. … We’ve got our work cut out for us. But it’s March and anything can happen.”

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On Wednesday night, the “anything can happen” was a case where Utah played arguably its most complete game of the season, getting contributions across the board — eight players finished with seven or more points, a number a bit inflated by the Utes’ 37-point victory.

Cole Bajema scored a career-high 22 points and hit six 3-pointers, helping spark a 25-6 first-half run to put ASU away. Deivon Smith was one assist short of just the second triple-double in Pac-12 tournament history.

“We’ve had a lot of games where we were really connected, but tonight it really showed from the jump,” Deivon Smith said. “We trusted each other, we trusted each other’s work. And we had the confidence to pass the ball to whoever it was that was putting the shot up.

“And tonight it showed. We shot the ball pretty well and everybody was together. That’s what we need to advance.”

In addition, Gabe Madsen scored eight of his 10 points early to help Utah get off to a good start, while Hunter Erickson’s 11 points were highlighted by three 3-pointers, the most he’s made as a Ute in a single game.

“I thought Hunter gave us a good spark off the bench. I think he hit two 3s pretty early in the first half. It was good for him. And Deivon was finding them. Gabe got it going a little bit, not necessarily from the 3-point line, but doing other things defensively, looking for other guys and whatnot,” Bajema said.

Runnin' Utes on the air

Pac-12 men's basketball tournament

No. 6 seed Utah (19-13) vs.

No. 3 seed (22-9)

Thursday, 9:30 p.m. MDT

T-Mobile Arena, Las Vegas


Radio: 700 AM

“I think we were pretty well connected. Still have to do it tomorrow.”

That’s a sentiment echoed by Utah’s coach — the work isn’t over.

“We have a lot of work to do,” Craig Smith said Wednesday night. “Obviously tomorrow — there’s four teams in the Pac-12 that went home today and eight teams still alive as we head into tomorrow.”

What others are saying about Utah’s NCAA bubble chances

Colorado and Utah’s NCAA Tournament résumés could be impacted by Thursday night’s game. As such, a variety of national experts have weighed in on what it could mean to both schools. Here’s a sampling:

ESPN’s John Gasaway: “With its faint postseason hopes hanging in the balance, Utah played accordingly. ... To be clear, any conceivable postseason hopes are at stake for the 19-13 Utes, who on Champ Week Thursday are still virtually invisible in mock brackets. A win over a top-30 NET opponent like the Buffaloes would at least keep this conversation going.”

The Athletic’s Justin Williams: “The Buffs will not go away quietly, winning at Oregon and Oregon State last week to stand firm on the bubble, although road wins over Washington and the Ducks are the team’s only Q1 wins. A victory on Thursday in the Pac-12 quarterfinals remains imperative, but Colorado is currently in a better position than Utah, which just lost two in a row to the same Oregon teams and now needs at least a couple of victories in the Pac-12 tournament to have a shot at an at-large. The Utes, with strong wins over BYU and at Saint Mary’s, remain in contention after a blowout win over Arizona State late Wednesday.”

CBS Sports’ Jerry Palm: “Utah has had more luck against better teams, which includes wins over BYU and Saint Mary’s, but it has some bad losses, including at Oregon State last week and two to Arizona State. The Utes also have a neutral-site win over Wake Forest, which could be meaningful if they are in a head-to-head comparison. Unlike football, where head-to-head is pretty much everything, it is not always the case in basketball.

“... Again, the winner gets to keep trying and the loser has to pray for help in other places. Colorado is 8-9 against the top two quadrants, but only 2-5 vs. potential NCAA tournament teams in that group. Neither Quad 1 win is against a likely tournament team.”