BOULDER – As Saturday's second half began, the undoing of the Colorado Buffaloes appeared to be in full swing.
A bevy of turnovers and ill-advised shots had turned a seven-point first half lead into a seemingly insurmountable 12-point deficit as just 17 minutes remained in the team’s all-important matchup with Pac-12 Conference rival Utah. The Buffs not only had come face-to-face with the possibility of suffering yet another loss, one that would have been their fifth in the last six games, but they also were on the verge of being dealt a nail in their proverbial coffin as their once-promising start to the 2013-14 season seemed to be slipping away.
Facing the most pivotal moment of their season, the Buffs (16-6, 5-4) responded in the most resounding way possible. A 30-18 run over the final 17 minutes of regulation sent the game into overtime. They then scored 10 of the first 14 points in the extra session and finally overcame the pesky Utes 79-75 at the Coors Events Center.
“That was a critical point in the game, but as far as for our season on the brink, I’m not going to go that far,” said coach Tad Boyle. “Our defense kept us in the game, I thought Eli (Stalzer’s) steal and transition basket was big, Xavier Talton hit a big three in the corner and then another pull up at the end of the shot clock. Those were big shots from guys who normally don’t play as much. We’ve been talking about guys filling in and I thought those two guys were terrific tonight.”
Sophomore guard Xavier Talton, who averaged less than four points coming into the game and is known more for his defensive presence rather than his scoring prowess, scored 11 of his 14 points in the game’s final 17 minutes. After the team cut Utah’s once 12-point lead in half at the 13-minute mark, Talton hit 3-pointers on consecutive possessions and the game was tied less than 6 minutes after Utah (14-7, 3-6) had built its biggest lead. Talton then scored five of the team’s first seven points in overtime en route to one of the most impressive performances of his young career.
“I’ve never (had a game like that), not on both ends,” said Talton. “I think everybody just found me tonight and I was feeling more confident. Just being in the gym this last week, we talked about competing and we’ve been in the gym shooting a lot, so I think that’s something that’s helped out.”
Since losing All-American candidate Spencer Dinwiddie, the Buffs had looked out of sync and uninspired in losing four of five games by an average of 15 points. Another loss in a winnable conference game might have all but sealed the NCAA tournament fate of a Buffs team who was once ranked as high No. 15 nationally this season. Their impressive turnaround now puts them back above .500 in Pac-12 play. And with four of their next six games at home, the Buffs once again seem in the hunt for a school-record third consecutive NCAA Tournament bid.
The Buffs will get an opportunity to build upon the momentum from Saturday’s win as they host struggling Washington State (9-12, 2-7) on Wednesday at the CEC (6 p.m., Pac-12 Network).
Despite its record, Washington State will come into Boulder a dangerous team. The Cougars jumped to an eight-point second-half lead in the team’s meeting last month in Pullman before eventually falling short (71-70) in overtime.