The Runnin' Utes took the floor Friday night eager to play someone whose jersey does not read UTAH on the front. After three long weeks of preparation, Larry Krystkowiak's squad took their first step together as a team in 2012.
"In practice, you're playing each other, so you focus on 10 different guys, and what they're doing wrong," said Utah head coach Larry Krystkowiak. "Now you're playing a guy with a different jersey, and suddenly you're focusing on just five guys. Now it's kind of right in front of you, what needs to be fixed and improved."
One item which needs immediate attention is taking care of the ball and ball security, as the Utes committed 18 turnovers in Friday's contest, something the Utes will look to resolve over the course of the next week.
Against a DII school in Simon Fraser, who will travel next to take on Utah State Saturday night, the Utes are taking the victory with a grain of salt. Perhaps there is a sliver of satisfaction in executing what was supposed to happen, especially as the Runnin' Utes lost their 2011 exhibition to Adams State.
With that in mind, the Utes did what they were expected to do, which in and of itself is a positive step, however minute, for this program.
"The win was good. We got a little feel-good, but I think all the players need to look at three-five things that they each need to improve on. Winning a basketball game is great, but you're a realist at the same time,"philosophized Krystkowiak. "We've still got a long way to go and it's an exhibition game that doesn't count. We're not doing cartwheels or anything. I have a lot of respect for Simon Fraser, but they don't have a lot of size, so we should have done what we did tonight."
Scoring came easily for the Utes, but the play was sloppy through most of the first half for both teams, looking at times, more like a street game than an organized collegiate game. Both teams combined for 19 turnovers in the first half alone, and the pace was fragmented through the first 20 minutes of the contest. For Utah, play all around improved in the second half, and the Utes stretched their lead on better defense. Meanwhile, the scoring punch provided by Jarred DuBois and Dallin Bachynski carried the Utes offensively in the second half.
Senior guard Jarred DuBois provided a consistent spark for the Utes, playing a large portion of his minutes at point guard, scored 10 of his 14 points in the first half after knocking down two very early three-pointers. DuBois also led the team in rebounding with eight, grabbed two steal with two assists, making for a very solid line on the night.
Four Utes scored in double figures, with sophomore center Dallin Bachynski leading the way with 16 on 7-8 shooting. Bachynski had an easy time of things, as most of his shots came in the form of transition points; his reward for consistently running the floor. The transfer from Southern Utah University also had six rebounds and three blocks to complete his evening.
"Dallin did a nice job running the floor. He was second on our team in all our conditioning stuff," praised Krystkowiak. "So to have a guy at 6-foot-11 is a nice advantage for us."
Senior center Jason Washburn chipped in 13 points on 6-9 shooting, three rebounds and one block, overcoming a slow start to finish strong with eight points in the second half.
A big story Friday was the play of West Jordan (Utah) native Jordan Loveridge who chose Utah from a long list of offers as a high school standout. Considered a major get for Krystkowiak and the rebuilding Utah program, Loveridge showed Friday why he was so highly sought after, scoring 13 points and pulling in seven rebounds, three assists, one turnover, one block and one steal.
"I didn't really think about anything coming in," said a casual Jordan Loveridge, referring to his first collegiate start. "I just took it as another game. I wanted to go out and play hard, and try to find a way to help my team."
Hard to gauge the true meaning of any success the Utes enjoyed Friday night, one thing Krystkowiak has stressed to his team all season long is the importance of defense. As the Utes look to establish a strong defensive identity, Friday was important in the team's progress given that they held Simon Fraser to just 13 points in the second half, after contesting seemingly every shot, and ultimately holding their visitors to 19.4% (8-26) on the night.
"A year ago I think as the year went on we learned the importance of having to guard in order to have a chance," Krystkowiak explained. "The story is still the same. If you play defense, it doesn't matter what kind of team you have, that's where you win games and give yourself a chance."
Still, the Utes tempered their enthusiasm, while still finding a way to take away the positives going forward.
"We didn't go up against as good a team [as Adams State], but we have a better team this year. We did what we were supposed to do, and if we had won by a little less, I'd be worried," said senior center Jason Washburn. "The point is, we have a better team and I think we kind of showed that tonight. For example, I go off the court and nothing really gets lost out there. We're excited about what we got, but we'll analyze this game and fix the mistakes we made, and move on."
Contrasting Simon Fraser's poor shooting performance from the field, Utah shot 42.9% from the field and a paltry 16.7% (3-18) from behind the arc and a troubling 63.6% (14-22) from the free throw line, indicating that the victory could have been won by a much larger victory had the Utes been hitting on all cylinders.
"I thought we were good in transition in the first half. We missed a lot of shots, but they were good shots, they were the right shots," said Krystkowiak. "That's just a matter of shots falling, but I thought the shots we were taking were good."
Despite missing some shots, the Utes were able accomplish quite a bit Friday, striking an important balance between finding out what the team has, and getting young guys all-important playing time.
"There was a six or eight minute stretch when we had all five freshman on the floor," said Krystkowiak. "When you talk about rebuilding the program, I think it's important to get those guys some minutes. They look like basketball players, and they're soaking up all the coaching so it's encouraging."