Pac-12 top four finish there for taking for CU Buffs in regular season finale at Utah The Denver Post

Asked this week just how much importance he puts on gaining a top-four seed at the Pac-12 Conference tournament, Colorado head coach Tad Boyle could see the positives on both sides of the ledger.

Certainly it was a pragmatic answer, as the Buffaloes go into their regular season finale on Saturday night at Utah in line for either the fourth seed or fifth seed next week in Las Vegas. It’s one or the other, and that’s it. Yet the response also was borne from experience, as his Buffs have enjoyed memorable conference tournament runs on both sides of that first-round bye cutoff line.

“To win the tournament, (the bye) matters. To get to the championship game, it matters,” Boyle said. “But there is a benefit to that five seed in that the next night, when you’re playing the four seed, your players have kind of gotten the butterflies out. They’re used to the floor. They’re used to the walk from the hotel to the arena. They’re more comfortable. So there’s a little bit more pressure on the four seed than there is the five seed.

“So that’s the benefit of that. But if you’re fortunate enough to move on and now you’re in the semifinals, now it’s your third game in three days. Now if you’re fortunate enough to get into the finals, it’s your fourth and you’re basically going on adrenaline. For winning the tournament, the fourth seed is critical. For advancing to the semis, you can make an argument that the fifth seed is better. That being said, I’d rather be the fourth seed. The higher the better.”

The Buffs can do just that with a victory in Salt Lake. Following Oregon’s loss at Washington on Thursday night, CU can claim sole possession of fourth-place with a win, and still would take fourth via a tiebreaker in the event of a loss and an Oregon loss at Washington State. Gaining a bye through the back door, of course, isn’t the preferred route for a Buffs team has won six of its past seven games and is coming off an upset of No. 2 Arizona.

One of those victims was Utah in an 81-76 loss at the Events Center on Feb. 12. As was the case last month, the Utes (4-15 Pac-12, 11th place) are one lower-tier team in the conference that often has competed beyond its stature in the standings. After losing at CU, the Utes recorded a road sweep against Stanford and Cal. And last week, two days after handling the Buffs by 17 points in Boulder, Arizona State escaped Utah with a narrow two-point win.

“A lot of these teams, the record doesn’t do them justice,” CU guard KJ Simpson said. “You can’t look at the records. Everyone in the Pac-12 is good. And all of the Utah games have been close. I think that reminder hit us against ASU. You can’t go in looking at another team’s record thinking it’s going to be easy. We’ll be ready for that.”

The Buffs are one of two teams that have won the Pac-12 tournament the hard way, posting four wins in four days without the aid of a first-round bye (CU in 2012; Oregon in 2019). Next week the Buffs might also have an advantage of fresher March legs, having had a normal two-game week last week and the one-game week against Utah while many league teams had five games scheduled over the past two weeks. An extra day of rest in Las Vegas would only aid that advantage, but all of that conjecture might be somewhat meaningless if the Buffs can’t keep their momentum rolling against the Utes.

“The first time we played Utah (at home) a few weeks ago, we were lucky to win,” Boyle said. “They led the first 36 minutes of that game. By double digits at times. We made some plays down the stretch and we made some stops down the stretch to get that win. But it wasn’t a pretty win. And Utah missed (nine) free throws in the first half, and they’re the best free throw shooting team in the league. You have to guard Utah without fouling. When you’re on the road, sometimes that’s problematic.”

CU Buffs men’s basketball at Utah Utes

TIPOFF: Saturday, 7:30 p.m. MT, Huntsman Center, Salt Lake City, Utah.

BROADCAST: TV — ESPNU; Radio — 850 AM and 94.1 FM.

RECORDS: Colorado 19-10, 11-8 Pac-12 Conference; Utah 11-18, 4-15.

COACHES: Utah — Craig Smith, 1st season (11-18, 164-97 overall); Colorado — Tad Boyle, 12th season (252-153, 308-219 overall).

KEY PLAYERS: Colorado — F Jabari Walker, So., 14.4 ppg, 9.3 rpg; F Evan Battey, R-Sr., 11.7 ppg, 4.5 rpg, .500 3-point percentage; G Keeshawn Barthelemy, R-So., 11.1 ppg, 2.5 apg; F Tristan da Silva, So., 9.4 ppg, 3.5 rpg. Utah — C Branden Carlson, Jr., 13.4 ppg, 6.1 rpg; G Both Gach, Sr., 9.3 ppg, 2.7 rpg; G Marco Anthony, Sr., 9.0 ppg, 7.3 rpg.

NOTES: CU had lost eight consecutive games at Utah before posting a 65-58 win in Salt Lake last year…A Utah loss would keep the Utes in the 11th spot for the conference tournament, but they will move up to 10th with a win…The game will feature the top two free throw shooting teams in Pac-12 play in CU (.774) and Utah (.770), although the Utes went just 10-for-19 in a Buffs win in Boulder last month. Five CU players scored in double figures in that win, led by a 22-point, 13-rebound double-double from Jabari Walker…The winner between No. 16 USC at No. 17 UCLA on Saturday will determine the 2-3 seeds for the Pac-12 tournament…If the Buffs are the fifth seed, they will be locked into a first-round game against 12th-seeded Oregon State on Wednesday. If they nab the fourth seed, CU will play the first round winner between Oregon and Oregon State…A win would give CU its 13th 20-win season in program history, and the ninth in 12 seasons under Boyle.

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