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Second-half run pushes Buffaloes past Utes in Pac-12 opener

Kennedy Leonard rolls past the Utah defense to score. Photo by Jeremy Cannon/CU Athletics.
Kennedy Leonard rolls past the Utah defense to score. Photo by Jeremy Cannon/CU Athletics.
Kennedy Leonard rolls past the Utah defense to score. Photo by Jeremy Cannon/CU Athletics.

Seattle – A 12-0 run over the waning moments of the third and early minutes of the fourth quarter propelled Colorado past Utah in the Pac-12 Tournament opener Thursday at KeyArena, an eventual 66-56 win for the Buffaloes.

Kennedy Leonard led all scorers with 15 points on 7-of-10 shooting — and grabbed a game-high eight rebounds alongside teammate Annika Jank — while Taneya BoClair had 12 points and Tori Williams 11 to pace the Utes.

“Our toughness, our effort, and our grit was apparent from start to finish,” said Colorado head coach JR Payne.

The Utes (17-13, 8-10) led by as many as five in the opening quarter, but an 11-0 run from the Buffaloes (15-15, 5-13) at the end of the first and into the second put Colorado up eight. The Buffaloes would take a seven-point advantage into the break, with Utah going just 3-of-14 from the field in the second quarter.

Two quick baskets to start the third quarter extended the lead to 11, before the Utes began to chip away. Utah narrowed the gap to five, but was held scoreless over the final three minutes as the Buffaloes pushed their lead back to double digits.

Colorado got the lead up to 17 during that 12-0 run, as Utah went more than five minutes without a basket. The Utes — who ended the game with a season-low 18 made field goals — would not get the deficit back to single digits.

“We didn’t get stops,” said Utah head coach Lynne Roberts. “It’s not as simple as that, but I think they answered. They made shots and then we turned it over.”

While the two teams were nearly even on the boards, Colorado outscored the Utes 38-18 in the paint, and turned 19 Utah turnovers into 25 points.

“When things got close, we defended,” Payne said. “We dug our heels in and got stops, and they were good stops. They were stops that led to offensive opportunities.”

The pressure that put on the Utah defense created problems for the Utes.

“When we’re not getting stops on defense and we’re not scoring on offense, I think we get a little frantic and everybody tries to make the home run play on offense, which just compounds the mistakes,” BoClair said.

If the Pac-12 sends seven teams to the NCAA Tournament, Utah would earn the conference’s automatic WNIT bid, but its possible the Utes would earn an at-large berth otherwise.

The Buffaloes will now take on top-seeded Oregon on Friday at 11 a.m. in the quarterfinals. The Ducks won their lone matchup with Colorado 74-55 in Boulder on Jan. 26.

“It’s going to be fun,” Leonard said. “Obviously they’re the No. 1 seed and we’re the 9 seed, so there’s no pressure on us. They’ve got to stop us.”

Dribbles:

  • Colorado wins the season series with Utah 2-1. Both teams won on the road, as the Buffaloes notched a 69-65 win in Salt Lake City on Feb. 1, and Utes returned the favor three days later in Boulder, 78-74.
  • With a first-quarter jumper, Utah’s Tanaeya BoClair became the 28th player in program history to score 1,000 points for the Utes.
  • Kennedy Leonard’s eight rebounds were a season-high, and one shy of tying a career-high.
  • Alexis Robinson tied a season-best with five assists.
  • Utah’s two steals tied a season-low.
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