Utah has been able to escape some close calls despite not shooting very well, but another off night could prove costly against a Miami team that looks much better than predicted.
Unlike the 16th-ranked Utes, the Hurricanes have been impressive offensively, and look to continue their hot start in Friday night's semifinal of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off.
Utah (3-0) ranked second in the Pac-12 by shooting 48.2 percent last season and advanced to the Sweet 16. Leading scorer Delon Wright is gone, though, and it hasn't been nearly as good from the floor to start this campaign.
The Utes shot 46.9 percent in a nine-point win over Southern Utah to open the season last Friday, then beat San Diego State by five while shooting 40.0 percent. They struggled again Thursday, hitting 38.3 percent from the floor in a 73-63 quarterfinal win over Texas Tech.
Lorenzo Bonam finished with a game-high 20 points while Jordan Loveridge added 18 and Jakob Poeltl scored 15 for Utah, which hit 6 of 24 from 3-point range and is shooting just 30 percent from behind the arc on the year.
The Utes, though, outrebounded the Red Raiders 27-13 after the half and held Texas Tech to 3 of 19 from 3-point range for the game.
''Our intensity just picked up and we got down into it defensively,'' said senior guard Brandon Taylor, who scored 11 points. ''We tried to slow down a little bit on offense and really just capitalize and hold onto the basketball as much as we could.''
Utah clearly didn't take any pointers from Miami's performance earlier Thursday. The Hurricanes (3-0) shot 56.7 percent and hit 9 of 17 from 3-point range in a 105-79 victory over Mississippi State, the first time since 2004 they've scored at least 100 points against a Division I opponent.
That performance shouldn't have come as too much of a surprise, though. Miami shot 56.4 percent and drained 12 of 23 3s in Monday's 93-77 win over Louisiana-Lafayette.
The Hurricanes, picked to finish fifth in the ACC, got 19 points from Sheldon McClellan, 15 from Ja'Quan Newton and 14 from James Palmer in the first round of this tournament to lead seven players in double figures. Their 59 first-half points set a tournament record.
McClellan is averaging a team-best 17.3 points and shooting 58.6 percent while hitting 6 of 11 from long range. Davon Reed attempted only two shots and finished with eight points, but he's averaging 13.7, up from 8.2 last season.
''We always know offensively we have a lot of weapons,'' said point guard Angel Rodriguez, who hit 4 of 6 from the field and scored 11 points. ''We felt that way last year as well.”
Coach Jim Larranaga certainly isn't going to complain about his squad's offensive success, but he'd like to see his players continue to step up defensively as well. The Hurricanes have forced at least 13 turnovers in each contest and haven't allowed an opponent to shoot better than 46.0 percent.
''I thought we were able to consistently make good defensive decisions,'' Larranaga said. ''That ended up resulting in good offensive play. A lot of times your defense creates your offense. I thought that's what happened (especially) in the first half.''
The winner of this contest will face either No. 22 Butler or Temple in Sunday's championship game.
- Angel Rodriguez
- Davon Reed
- Ja'Quan Newton
- Jakob Poeltl
- James Palmer Jr.
- Jordan Loveridge
- Lorenzo Bonam
- Miami (FL) Hurricanes
- Sheldon McClellan
- Utah Utes