Despite a slow start for the Utes in the Huntsman Center on Monday night, Utah pulled out another win to close out preseason play by beating the College of Idaho 115-74. Dakarai Tucker led all scorers with 17 points and seven rebounds, and he was happy to make more of a contribution to the team than he usually does.
“It’s just a mindset thing,” Tucker said. “I just had to get back into it personally, get back in the gym and respect the game.”
Kyle Kuzma also had 17 points along with four rebounds, while Jakob Poeltl added another double-double to his season with 15 points and 10 rebounds to go with his three blocks. Brandon Taylor also scored 15 points of his own.
The team shot an impressive 62.7 percent from the floor, and Utah used good ball movement to its advantage, finding plenty of open shots. As a team, the Runnin’ Utes recorded 28 assists, something head coach Larry Krystkowiak loves to watch.
“I think the identity of our team is to share the basketball,” Krystkowiak said. “It’s a fun way to play, and it’s the only way I want to coach. There were a few occasions where I thought we actually over-passed it.”
Something Krystkowiak was not happy about, however, was the 17 turnovers. With the high amount of giveaways, Krystkowiak wanted to send a message to all of his players. So whenever someone turned over the ball, he immediately subbed that person out of the contest.
“It’s disheartening, and it’s going to end up being our Achilles’ heel,” Krystkowiak said. “We’ve got to have a renewed focus of making sure we’re doing a lot better job of taking care of the ball.”
Those turnovers almost cost Utah the game on Monday night. The Utes went down 16-2 to start the game, letting the Yotes score four three-pointers in not even the first four minutes of the game. Sometime during this run for the College of Idaho, Krystkowiak was forced to call an early timeout to instill some fear in his team as the Yotes continued to score.
“A lot of half-speed,” Krystkowiak said of the early poor performance. “It was about as ugly as of a beginning as we’ve had in a long time. We weren’t ready to play from the tip-off, and it really got our attention and we got to get better.”
Tucker came in off the bench and immediately hit a three-pointer, which gave the team a spark it desperately needed. The Utes eventually cut into the Yotes’ lead and made it a two-point game when Tucker hit a layup and later got their first lead of the game when Taylor drained a three-pointer to put them up 24-21.
Utah then amped up its defense and started hitting more shots to run up the score, and at the end of the half it had the 52-39 lead. Although the Yotes were firing from three in the opening minutes, they finished the half just 7-of-22 from three-point range, while the Utes were 6-of-14.
After a couple of back-and-forth scores between the two teams to open the second half, the Yotes were able to make it a single-digit game behind a couple of three pointers, making the score 56-48. After a dunk from Poeltl and layups from Tucker and Isaiah Wright, Utah got back on track to make it a 14-point game.
Utah didn’t put the Yotes away until there were about 10 minutes left to play, but soon enough it got the lead up to 23 points and did not look back from there. As the bench was cleared for Utah, all players who entered the game for the Utes were able to get on the board.
Utah’s next few games are on the road as the team starts the new year with Pac-12 play. The Utes will travel to California to take on Stanford on Friday night and then Cal on Sunday evening.
“We’ve got to improve from a defensive point of view, and we got to get dialed in and make sure we’re doing a good job,” Krystkowiak said.