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SALT LAKE CITY — There was nothing that could be done to cool off Utah's Branden Carlson in the first half of Utah's road contest against Colorado Saturday night.
The 7-footer had 21 of the team's 36 first-half points, including two made 3-pointers, and willed Utah to a 3-point halftime lead after a week off of play. And though Carlson seemingly couldn't miss in the first half, Colorado answered back and limited him to only 4 points in the second half.
Colorado used a tough defense against Carlson to limit the team's leading scorer and pulled away in the final five minutes of the game to defeat Utah 81-76 at home.
"It's great to see him back and playing at that level, and he needs to be a force for us when you come on the road and play in this kind of an environment," Utah head coach Craig Smith said. "It's on me, he probably played a little too much. Now he's not going to say that, but I thought he got a little tired there late.
"At the end of the day, he played like 34 minutes, and that was a physical — the second half in particular was a very, very physical and rugged game."
Carlson agreed with his head coach and said he started to lose some "gas" down the stretch and couldn't sustain the career-high effort. "I just didn't go up as strong as I should have."
Utah led for 35 minutes of the game and built up as much as an 11-point lead in the second half, its highest mark of the game. But with about 10 minutes left to play and a 10-point lead over the home team, cracks started to emerge in Utah's game and Colorado slowly chipped into the lead before eventually tying up the game with 4:29 left to play.
Colorado attacked the rim and managed to get to the free-throw line on a regular basis in the second half, where the team finished 18 of 20 from the charity stripe to closeout the game. Conversely, Utah, who shot an abysmal 5 of 14 from the free-throw line in the first half, only managed five free throw attempts in the second half (all makes).
But the disparity at the free-throw line, mixed with Utah's poor shooting from the line in the first half, limited the team's ability to maintain a lead.
Smith said the inability to get more fouls (and to make the shots when they got there) and a poor night of transition defense was the ultimate factor in Colorado coming away with a win after Utah controlled the game for much of the night.
"There was definitely an issue with our transition defense or what we call conversion," Smith said. "They got 20 points off of that. The free-throw battle and the transition game, we felt like those were gonna be two of the biggest keys to the game to find a way to win, and they won both of those and hence they went by five."
"We didn't make our free throws when usually we're a good free-throw shooting team," Carlson said, while adding: "Colorado shot 29 free throws and they had 20 points in conversion."
Not a great combination to get a win on the road.
Jabari Walker led Colorado with 22 points, including a perfect 9 of 9 at the free-throw line, and was one of five players for the Buffaloes in double figures in the win. Evan Battey added 16 points, and Keeshawn Barthelemy and Tristan da Silva each had 14 points apiece as Colorado outscored Utah 48-40 in the second period.
Carlson finished the night with a game-high 25 points on 11-of-19 shooting and eight rebounds. Marco Anthony recorded a double-double with 15 points and 12 rebounds. He added six assists in a well-rounded night for the guard.