SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Making one clutch play after another is becoming second nature to Both Gach again.
Gach scored a career-high 28 points, including three go-ahead free throws with 0.6 seconds left, to lift Utah to a 74-72 overtime victory over Colorado on Saturday. Those game-winning points offered one final defining moment among many for a sophomore guard mired in a shooting slump not too long ago.
Gach endured a 10-game stretch where he went just 2 of 35 from 3-point range and shot over 35% percent from the field twice. The slump finally ended on a two-game road trip against California and Stanford where he averaged 17 points on 59% shooting.
Filling in for injured point guard Rylan Jones, Gach looked revitalized running Utah’s offense. He shot 9 of 15 against the Buffaloes and dished out four assists.
“I feel like I’m being myself once again in just being able to make plays for myself and my teammates,” Gach said.
Gach came up big in critical moments to help Utah (16-14, 7-11 Pac-12) snap a three-game losing streak. He hit a jumper with 2.5 seconds left in regulation to force overtime. Gach also kept the Utes within striking distance after Colorado threatened to break the game open in the first half. He scored 16 points before halftime by attacking the rim and knocking down shots from the perimeter.
Alfonso Plummer added 21 points and Timmy Allen chipped in 10 points and eight rebounds for the Utes. Utah won for only the second time in the team’s past eight contests.
McKinley Wright IV scored 20 points and totaled six rebounds and six assists to lead the Buffaloes. Tyler Bey scored 16 points and collected 10 rebounds. Evan Battey added 15 points.
It wasn’t enough to prevent Colorado (21-10, 10-8) from suffering a fourth straight loss. The Buffaloes shot just 30% from the field in the second half and went 2 of 15 from 3-point range after halftime.
“I have no problem with our effort and our competitive spirit,” Colorado coach Tad Boyle said. “But we missed some really good looks in the first half and in the second half that didn’t go down. When you do that, you put a lot of pressure on your defense.”
Initially, Utah looked a bit lost on offense without Jones in the lineup. The Utes’ starting point guard sat out while still recovering from a concussion he suffered during a loss at California a week earlier.
Colorado twice built up a double-digit lead in the first half and led 23-13 on a 3-pointer from Maddox Daniels midway through the half. Gach kept Utah in it with a flurry of baskets and free throws. His final basket before halftime cut the deficit to 36-33.
Utah finally took its first lead after halftime behind a pair of 7-0 runs. Plummer twice cut the deficit to a point with 3-pointers. Allen finally put the Utes in front 47-46 after he capped the second run with a layup.
Colorado countered with its own 7-0 run to go back in front. Battey and Maddox Daniels combined for back-to-back baskets to punctuate the spurt and put the Buffaloes up 53-47.
Utah had one more rally left in regulation. The Utes surged ahead 60-59 on Plummer’s fifth 3-pointer of the game. Bey immediately answered the basket with a go-ahead jumper on the ensuing Colorado possession. He then converted a 3-point play with 19.6 seconds left in regulation to put the Buffaloes up 64-62.
After Gach forced overtime with a jumper, Colorado appeared poised to pull away in the final seconds. Wright capped an 8-2 run for the Buffaloes by driving for a go-ahead layup to put them up 72-70 with 31 seconds left in overtime.
But Gach converted three free throws after being fouled by Wright on a last-second shot and it secured an improbable win for Utah.
“I’m just happy we could end the regular season on a win,” Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak said. “I think we have some things in motion.”
Plummer made his first career start for the Utes on Saturday and quickly made the most of opportunity. He had his second straight 20-point game after making a career-high five 3-pointers and shooting 7-of-14 from the field overall.
The junior guard has seen his role increase dramatically over the last five games and is averaging 15.6 points per game over that stretch.
“I’m happy for my work,” Plummer said. “I feel like I’m getting better. I’m helping the team every day, so I’m just blessed and happy for my position right now.
Colorado shot just 25% from 3-point range, going 7-of-28 overall. It marked the fourth consecutive game that the Buffaloes have shot under 30% from the perimeter. They shot 35% or better in 10 of their previous 14 games.
“Right now, we’ve gone from the best 3-point shooting team in the league, about four games ago, to a team that’s really struggling to make one when they’re wide open – much less when it’s crunch time,” Boyle said.
Colorado: The Buffaloes were aggressive around the basket on offense and opportunistic on defense in the first half. Colorado went away from that formula after halftime and it proved costly.
Utah: Without their starting point guard, the Utes looked completely lost on offense at critical times. But Gach came through in the end and rallied Utah for one of their biggest wins of the season.
Colorado finished in a tie for fifth in the final Pac-12 standings with Arizona, but lost the tiebreaker with the Wildcats and dropped to the sixth seed in next week's Pac-12 tournament at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. The Buffs will open play Wednesday against No. 11 seed Washington State (15-16, 6-12) in a 9:30 p.m. (MT) game. If they win their opener, they will face No. 3 seed Arizona State on Thursday.