Pac-12 tussle pits Buffs against Utes

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Salt Lake City, UT ( - Enjoying their highest position in the national rankings since 1999, the ninth-ranked Utah Runnin' Utes close out a five-game homestand versus Pac-12 Conference foe Colorado at the Huntsman Center on Wednesday.

Utah, which finished the 1998-99 campaign ranked sixth in the country, has lost just two games in 2014-15, and both have come on the road against nationally-ranked opponents. First, the Utes was taken down by 16th-ranked San Diego State in the second game of the season, 53-49, and then almost a month later Utah was tripped up by No. 10 Kansas, 63-60.

But since the setback to the Jayhawks, the Runnin' Utes have rattled off five straight wins. The program kicked off 2015 with a resounding 79-55 win versus USC on Jan. 2 and then completely demoralized UCLA two days later, 71-39.

Meanwhile, the Buffaloes have had difficulty sustaining any sort of consistency, good or bad. On Sunday, the team matched the Utes by crushing USC, 86-65, two days after dismissing UCLA in a 62-56 final at home in Boulder. However, those two wins came on the heels of two defeats, which followed back-to-back victories, which came after a pair of losses.

Colorado leads the all-time series by a 25-17 margin, although in Salt Lake City it is Utah that owns a 12-8 edge. As Pac-12 opponents, the Buffs have claimed five of seven meetings, although both programs won on their home floor last season.

Inside the Coors Events Center, the hosts were suiting up without Josh Scott (14.8 ppg, 7.7 rpg) due to back spasms for the second straight games, but it didn't matter because the Colorado offense proved to be tough to stop with 55.2 percent accuracy from the floor in the 21-point victory over USC. Askia Booker dropped in 18 points and handed out seven assists, followed by Xavier Johnson and Dustin Thomas with 17 points apiece, while Wesley Gordon accounted for nine rebounds and six points.

A 55.6 percent shooter from the field, Scott is listed as questionable for the meeting with Utah, which means Booker and his cohorts may again have to pick up the slack. Booker, who has knocked down a team-best 25 3-pointers, is tops on the team with both 15.8 ppg and 46 assists, followed by Johnson and his 13.8 ppg and 5.7 rpg. Gordon (7.6 ppg) has shown that he too can hit the boards in the absence of Scott, clearing 7.1 per contest, but he is not nearly the same threat in a scoring capacity.

Prior to the meeting with the Bruins, the Utes had outscored nine opponents at home in Salt Lake City by an average of 84-57 and while the offense was not quite as strong for Utah, the team still came away with another lopsided victory. Delon Wright scored 11 points, cleared seven rebounds, handed out five assists and made four steals for the Runnin' Utes, while Jordan Loveridge tacked on 10 points and Jakob Poeltl nine to go with a game-high 10 boards.

At the defensive end, Utah held UCLA to just 28.8 percent shooting from the field and 1-of-11 behind the 3-point line, all while the Bruins converted only 8-of-15 at the free-throw line and were beaten on the glass, 42-28.

Wright, a 57.6 percent shooter from the floor, not only paces Utah in scoring with 15.1 ppg, he is also tops in assists (79) and steals (32), not to mention one of the stronger rebounders with 4.9 rpg. Loveridge, who has appeared in just half the team's 14 outings, checks in with 12.0 ppg while hitting on 53.3 percent on the perimeter, followed by Poeltl with 9.8 ppg and 8.3 rpg as he plays a key role in providing the Utes with a rebounding advantage of 9.1 rpg.