Strong second half powers Utes past Sun Devils
TEMPE, Ariz. — Utah had a short turnaround between facing Arizona’s big frontcourt and the outside shooters of Arizona State.
Not an ideal situation for such a contrast in strategies, but the Utes made it work.
Kyle Kuzma scored 19 of his career-high 26 points in the second half and grabbed 12 rebounds, helping Utah hold off Arizona State 88-82 on Saturday despite its short preparation window.
“You flip a switch when you come here, it’s now about the 3-point line, spreading you out, not so much pounding on the glass like Arizona does to you,” Utah associate head coach Tommy Connor said. “It was a complete contrast of style and then we had the 3 o’clock game.”
Utah (11-4, 2-1 Pac-12) lost a grinding game to No. 17 Arizona on Thursday and didn’t have much time to prepare for the Sun Devils. To save time, the Utes held their morning shootaround for Saturday’s afternoon game on an outdoor court instead of traveling from the hotel to Arizona State’s Wells Fargo Arena.
Utah struggled to get shots to fall early, just as it had all night against the Wildcats, but Kuzma keyed an early second-half run that helped the Utes build a 10-point lead. The junior forward made 11 of 17 shots, including 3 of 4 from 3-point range after a quiet game in Tucson.
“It was just more aggressive; I wasn’t very aggressive against Arizona,” Kuzma said. “I just took what the defense gave me to today.”
Utah shot 55 percent and made 8 of 16 from 3-point range, yet had a hard time shaking the feisty Sun Devils.
Arizona State clawed its way back in the final 3 minutes, pulling within 82-80 on Obinna Oleka’s two-handed slam in traffic that brought the crowd to its feet.
The Sun Devils (9-8, 2-2) just couldn’t finish the comeback off. Arizona State missed Lorenzo Bonham and JoJo Zamora combined to make 3 of 4 free throws in the final 25 seconds, preventing Arizona State from moving to 3-1.
Shannon Evans scored 21 points and Kodi Justice 17 to lead the Sun Devils.
“They played good offense, we had a period where our offense wasn’t producing,” Sun Devils coach Bobby Hurley said. “They were able to gain the lead and we knew we wouldn’t be able to recover from that.”
Utah was able to hang with No. 17 Arizona most of Thursday night before wearing down against the long, physical Wildcats.
The Utes had to shift gears in Tempe, facing an Arizona State team that’s guard-heavy and twice matched the school record for 3-pointers this season with 18.
Utah had a hard time slowing the Sun Devils on the perimeter at the start, particularly during a 23-5 run that put Arizona State up 25-16. And, just like their game against Arizona, the Utes had a long scoreless drought, going nearly 6 1/2 minutes without making a shot.
Utah finally started getting something to go in and cut what was once a 10-point deficit to 37-34 by halftime.
Kuzma sparked the Utes in the second half by playing more aggressively than he did in Tucson, keying a 9-0 run that put them up 56-48 midway through.
Arizona State made a late run to pull within two twice, but couldn’t get a shot to fall in the closing seconds.
“They made shots and we didn’t, and that’s what it came down to,” Justice said. “They hit open shots and we missed them.”
The Sun Devils’ lack of size has hurt it against bigger teams and did again against the Utes, who had a 40-30 advantage in rebounds.
The Sun Devils play at No. 17 Arizona on Thursday in the first two games against its biggest rival.
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