SALT LAKE CITY — Utah guard Both Gach hit a jumper to send the game into extra minutes, and then heaved a desperation shot from behind the 3-point line as time expired in overtime to give his team a shot at winning the game.
The shot missed as time expired.
But wait, the refs called a foul — three free throws — and awarded 0.6 seconds on the clock. Gach stepped to the charity stripe and hit all three free throws to give the Utes an eventual 74-72 win as Colorado’s final shot from halfcourt failed to go in.
With the win, Utah (16-14, 7-11) finished the regular season with the ninth-best record and a No. 9 seed in next week’s Pac-12 Tournament in Las Vegas.
Gach finished with a career-high performance, leading the Utes with 28 points, five rebounds and four assists, including an assist to Alfonso Plummer for a transition corner 3-pointer to give Utah its first lead of the game in the second half. Plummer added 21 points and four rebounds in his first start of the season for the Utes.
“That's big time. It's big time,” Utah head coach Larry Krystkowiak said of Gach’s performance. “You know, not everybody's built for that moment. The last couple games, he's stepped up when the moments the biggest. Both puts a lot of time in behind the scenes.”
Utah trailed by 8 points at the halftime break following a disjointed first-half performance. Colorado (21-10, 10-8) had previously built up a 10-point lead, it’s largest of the game, and had little problem frustrating a Utah team that was without injured freshman guard Rylan Jones.
But Utah came out of the locker room with some added aggressiveness to combat a Colorado team that beat Utah by nearly 40 points in their first meeting earlier in the season. Utah used a 7-0 run that was capped off by a Plummer 3-pointer in transition to take the team’s first lead of the game with just under 15 minutes left to play.
In the final minutes of regulation, Utah again went on a run amid a four-minute scoring drought by the Buffaloes and cut the lead back down to a one-possession game. Plummer stepped up and drilled one of five 3-pointers on the night to give the Utes another 1-point lead.
“Alfonso has been playing great — from an offensive efficiency point of view, he makes me look pretty silly that he hasn't been out there a lot more throughout the course of the year, but better late than never,” Krystkowiak said.
Colorado eventually held a 2-point lead with less than 20 seconds remaining in the game before Gach willed his way to the basket and forced up a jumper to tie the game up and send it into overtime. Gach only had 7 points in the second half after a dominating 16-point performance in the first half.
Still, Gach came up clutch when it mattered most and sealed the victory for the Utes.
For the latter half of Pac-12 play, Gach was in a slump and struggled to have a noticeable impact on the game. But in his last two games, the sophomore has led Utah with solid play and a dynamic style of play the Utes have missed.
“It feels good, you know. It's not gonna to be in a slump — kind of get down on yourself,” Gach said. “But for me is was just: keep grinding it out, keep getting to the gym. I felt like one day I was going to get out of the slump, so for me it is just trying to grind it out.”
Colorado, who entered the afternoon game in a four-way tie for third place in the Pac-12 standings, weathered several Utah runs and frustrated the offense. The Buffaloes were led by McKinley Wright’s 20 points, six rebounds and six assists, while Tyler Bey and Evan Battey combined for 31 points in the loss. Bey also had 10 rebounds in a night when Utah outrebounded the Buffaloes 40-37.
Utah will open the conference tournament Wednesday at 1 p.m. MDT at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas against No. 8-seeded Oregon State. The two program split its series this season.