January 06, 2015

(AP) - Utah still has a chance to share the Pac-12 regular-season championship for the first time joining the conference in 2011-12.

The 13th-ranked Utes are in the midst of their best stretch of the season with a six-game winning streak, and the improved play of seniors Brandon Taylor and Jordan Loveridge may be the biggest difference.

Taylor and Loveridge will take the floor at the Huntsman Center for the final time Saturday night against Colorado, which lost on a late hoop in the first meeting.

The Utes (23-7, 12-5) upset then-No. 9 Arizona 70-64 at home last Saturday and were rewarded with their highest ranking of the season this week. If Utah beats the Buffaloes (21-9, 10-7) and No. 9 Oregon - which has locked up the No. 1 seed for the Pac-12 tournament - loses at Southern California, the Utes will earn a share of the title.

Taylor and Loveridge were simply off for a period of the conference season, but they've improved their numbers across the board during the win streak.

Taylor's scoring average increased by three (12.5) and his assists by nearly two (5.3). The point guard's shooting percentage went from 37.8 in the first 11 Pac-12 games to 52.9 in the last six. His 3-point percentage has gone from 32.8 to 55.9.

Loveridge's points in conference action have gone from 9.5 to 14.0. The forward's shooting percentage has gone from 36.7 to 41.8 and the 3-point numbers have increased from 38.1 to 40.8.

Taylor said he was at ''the bottom of the bottom'' after missing two free throws with 1.8 seconds left in a 70-68 defeat at Stanford on Jan. 1 and making bigger mistakes in back-to-back road losses to Oregon and Oregon State last month.

The Utes led by one point with 3 seconds left against the Beavers, but Taylor fouled Stephen Thompson Jr. on a halfcourt heave with 1 second remaining. Thompson hit all three free throws to win the game.

''I was so down and out, it didn't make any sense,'' Taylor said. ''It was just like, you've done this all your life. You know how to get through situations. You've been through way harder stuff.

''I knew those tough times weren't going to last.''

Loveridge admitted he had begun to slack on some of the details. Things came to a head after the losses on the Oregon trip where the team ''didn't like that feeling, that taste we had,'' according to Loveridge.

''I just had to take a step back and realize you don't get that many more (opportunities),'' Loveridge said. ''Just knowing that if I want to have a future and help my team right now, I have to play hard every possession and try to make the most of every possession.

''When your days are numbered, it's going to be human nature (to take it up another notch). ... Me and Brandon definitely know there aren't many games left.''

Coach Larry Krystkowiak points to the defense for the recent success, but life is much better for the Utes when shots fall and the offense flows.

''Let's try to get clicking on as many cylinders as we can this time of year and get as many guys playing well right now,'' he said. ''That's important because we're in March.''

Colorado played well last week, posting its own upset of Arizona and beating Arizona State to tie the school record for most regular-season wins. The Buffaloes are on track to return to the NCAA Tournament after having a three-year run end last season.

''We're going to take the mojo and what we've learned from the entire season and make a final push,'' leading scorer and senior forward Josh Scott said.

Sunday's 79-69 victory over the Sun Devils gave Colorado a 16-1 home record, with the loss coming Jan. 8 when Lorenzo Bonam hit a floater with 1.1 seconds remaining to give the Utes a 56-54 win - their fourth straight in the series.

''I'll be honest,'' Scott said. ''I think the word for us is payback. They beat us on our home court and we'd like to get them back. I'm not going to shy around from saying that. That's something all of us want.''

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