Kuzma scores 19, No. 25 Utah beats UC Riverside
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) Kyle Kuzma had been clanking shots in practice, unable to find his range.
Given a chance to play, the redshirt freshman couldn’t miss.
Kuzma scored 19 points and Delon Wright had 13 to help No. 25 Utah beat UC Riverside 88-42 on Friday night.
”I was joking with him because he’s been missing short, banking shots in, and I’ve been coaching him hard,” Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak said. ”But he seems to like a game environment when I’m not breathing down his neck. He looked good tonight.”
The highly recruited forward from Michigan totaled just one point in Utah’s first two games. In his first extended action, he shot 3 of 4 on 3-pointers.
”The first games I was hesitant because I hadn’t played in so long, but today I calmed down and played my game,” Kuzma said. ”I have no clue why I got hot but it just came to me. Once you see the ball go through the rim, they all started falling.”
Jordan Loveridge scored 12 points and Brekkott Chapman had 11 as Utah (2-1) sparkled from beyond the arc, shooting 9 for 17 on 3s.
”Being freshmen, it’s a whole different level than high school, but it’s coming to us,” Chapman said.
Chapman figures to play a major role this season, along with his other first-year teammates – Kuzma, starting center Jakob Poetl and point guard Isaiah Wright, who had eight assists.
Nick Gruninger, a Utah native who played high school ball 20 miles north of the Huntsman Center, scored 14 points to lead the Highlanders (1-2). UC Riverside shot 29 percent and made 1 of its 13 3-point attempts.
”Every guy is bigger than our guys. When we got in there, we didn’t handle that length well. We don’t see many teams built like that defensively,” UC Riverside coach Dennis Cutts said.
Utah led 16-11 midway through the first half when Chapman, a freshman forward, sparked a 15-2 run with a steal and a tip-in. The lead expanded to 48-21 at halftime, boosted by 19 points off turnovers.
The second half gave Utah reserves a chance to play. Everyone on the team scored except for walk-on Austin Eastman, who played only the final minute.
The Utes have installed a more free-wheeling motion offense this season but couldn’t find a good flow in the first two games. The style is based on reading the defense, movement and pick-and-rolls.
”It may be a little bit of a misconception in basketball, but you really need to play hard on offense. You need to have a sense of urgency like we did tonight,” Krystkowiak said.
In their first loss Tuesday at San Diego State, the Utes had more turnovers (18) than field goals (16), falling 53-49.
”It was a good bounce-back game for us,” Chapman said.
The pick-and-roll success that had been so spotty was effective against the Highlanders, resulting in a bevy of layups, dunks and open jumpers.
”When you set a good screen in this offense, you’ll be wide open. It works when you do what you are supposed to do,” Chapman said.
UC Riverside: Leading scorer Taylor Johns was held to two points on 1-for-11 shooting. The Highlanders made all nine of their free throw attempts; Utah went 21 of 28.
Utah: The Utes tallied 21 assists on their 29 field goals and blocked seven shots. … At halftime, over 100 members of the Ute Tribe danced on the court while elders played a traditional drum.
UC Riverside: Hosts Saint Katherine on Sunday.
Utah: Hosts Texas-Pan American next Wednesday.
EVERYBODY GETS A CHANCE
Krystkowiak was pleased no one played more than 25 minutes and his reserves were on the court most of the second half. ”They all needed that to get a rhythm. They started working out some kinks … Games are just different than practice when the popcorn’s popping and the lights are on and the adrenaline is flowing. It’s productive for us because we’re going to need all those guys going forward.”
”The reason we came here to play this game was to bring him home to play in front of his friends and family,” Cutts said, on giving Gruninger this game in Utah. ”He was aggressive and made some plays at the basket.”