It wasn’t pretty or easy, but the #16 Utah Utes put away the Southern Utah Thunderbirds at the Jon M. Huntsman Center in the Utes’ regular season opener, 82-71.
It was a show for the big guys in front of a home crowd of 12,050. Jakob Poeltl, Jordan Loveridge, and Kyle Kuzma scored 26, 24, and 23 points, respectively. That’s good for 73 of Utah’s 82 total points. Kuzma’s 23 points and 12 rebounds were career highs. His previous points-high was 19 against UC Riverside last November, and his previous rebound-high of 6 happened twice.
The Thunderbirds had no answer for Poeltl inside, as he was able to pick up 11 rebounds in addition to his career-high in scoring.
Guards Brandon Taylor, Isaiah Wright, and Lorenzo Bonam shot a combined 0-18 from the floor. Dakarai Tucker and Brekkott Chapman combined for 2-of-8 shooting.
Utah head coach Larry Krystkowiak was quick to give the underdog Thunderbirds credit for a hard-fought game. “We’re going to fix the things that we didn’t do well, but this wasn’t like we came out and laid an egg,” Krystkowiak said. “[SUU] was a team that took advantage of an opportunity to come in here. They played hard and hit some great shots.”
Southern Utah shot 50% from the floor, including 10-of-19 from three-point range. The Thunderbirds had five players score between 10 and 13 points.
Utah held a 38-36 lead at halftime, which they opened up to a 11-point lead after a 10-1 run to start the second half. SUU responded with an 8-0 run, but the Utes slowly pulled away from that point on. Utah’s largest lead of 17 came with 46 seconds left in the game.
The Utes will have two days off before facing the San Diego State Aztecs Monday night at the Huntsman Center. Tipoff for the Utes and Aztecs will be at 7:30pm, with pregame coverage starting at 5:30 on ESPN700.
Larry Krystkowiak Postgame:
Jakob Poeltl and Kyle Kuzma Postgame:
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