Larry Krystkowiak's squad closed out its pre-season schedule with a 72-38 win over NAIA opponent College of Idaho Friday night at the Jon M. Huntsman Center. The win pulled Utah to 8-4 on the season, already an improvement over last year's season total of six games.
With much talk of dropping games the Utes should have won by all rights, the pre-season finish is bittersweet. Friday's game was important as the Utes looked to get back into the win column heading into Pac-12 play, and to erase the memory of the 21 point blown lead they took with them into the Christmas break.
"I think we needed to play again. The timing of that one was rough. But I'm a firm believer in everything happening for a reason," Krystkowiak said of the Northridge loss. "That game was disappointing, you look at [Sacramento State] and BYU and we're not that far away from having a record like some of the other teams in our conference have. Guys wanted to come in and play and get that bad taste out of their mouth tonight."
Rather than looking back, Krystkowiak wanted to focus on the here and now, and his team took a step forward in accomplishing that Friday night with the feel-good, but not horribly impressive win.
"We've talked to our players about it, and its all about today. It's easy to keep talking about games that happened, and games that are coming up. That was my message to them," explained Krystkowiak. "Whatever has taken place is irrelevant in terms of beating ourselves up about it. Its important we learn, and have a good practice today, or shoot-around in this case, then game tonight. Then we need to jump up and do the same thing tomorrow."
Two true freshmen helped the Utes take that first positive step forward in Jordan Loveridge and Brandon Taylor, giving the team a lift offensively in Loveridge's case, and defensively in Taylor's case, which helped spark his offensive performance.
"Brandon Taylor is a very talented individual. It's really hard to guard him because he can do it all; he'll go by you, he can shoot it [from outside]," praised Jason Washburn. "He's just got the freshman kinks he's got to work through, but he's a good spark off the bench. It's good that he's coming into his own right now, so the fact that he's getting himself going is a real bright spot for us."
Loveridge notched his third career double-double with 15 points and 10 rebounds to lead all scorers, while point guard Brandon Taylor chipped in a career-high 14 points as all but four Utes scored en route to the win.
Rather than coming off the bench, senior center Jason Washburn got the start Friday night, and added a 10 point, four rebound effort and fellow senior Jarred DuBois scored seven points, but dished out eight of Utah's 20 assists.
Previously quiet save for one earlier season performance, junior forward Renan Lenz had six key points, four rebounds and two blocks, a promising development as the Utes look for added benefit in the paint in place of struggling sophomore Dallin Bachynski, who finished with six points and two rebounds, considerably lower than his earlier output.
In clean up duty, redshirt freshman Jeremy Olsen played just five minutes, but pulled down five rebounds, once again managing high levels of productivity when given his rare opportunities.
As is typical in a Utah win, defense was a key factor Friday night as it held the College of Idaho to just 38 points, the lowest game total by an opponent since a 2009 contest versus Air Force.
The visiting Yotes shot 23.4 percent from the field (15-64) and 23.3 percent from beyond the arc (7-30) and 37.5 percent from the charity stripe (3-8) on the night.
Conversely Utah shot 26-53 from the field for a 49.1 percentage and were 7-14 from three-point range and also shot 13-16 from the free throw line.
The Utes will need all the momentum they can muster heading into a difficult week of road games versus Arizona opponents in Arizona State and the Arizona Wildcats to start Pac-12 play.
"This game was on the schedule for a reason, it got us into the right frame of mind. We still have a lot of things to work on heading into Arizona, two very tough places to play," summarized Washburn of Friday's easy win. "
Utah's first Pac-12 game of the season pits brother against brother as Utah sophomore center Dallin Bachynski goes up against older brother, Jordan who is a junior at Arizona State. Jordan is the conference's leading shot blocker with 54, or 4.5 per game and is among the conferences top big men early in the season.