Utah head coach Larry Krystkowiak knew he had a talented freshman class, but 6-9 forward Kyle Kuzma really showed what he can do Friday night in the Jon M. Huntsman Center. As Utah hosted the University of California Riverside, Kuzma lit up the building with a game-high 19 points on 6-of-7 shooting, 3-of-4 from three-point range.
"I was joking with him because he's been missing short, banking shots in, and I've been coaching him hard," Krystkowiaksaid. "But he seems to like a game environment when I'm not breathing down his neck. He looked good tonight."
Delon Wright had 13 points, four rebounds, three assists, and two steals to help No. 25 Utah beat UC Riverside 88-42 on Friday night, a nice rebound after a disappointing road loss to No. 16 San Diego State. Wright was a perfect 2-for-2 from three-point range. As a team, Utah (2-1) sparkled from beyond the arc, shooting 9-for-17 from deep.
The highly recruited Kuzma, from Michigan, totaled just one point in Utah's first two games, but on this night, he was nigh unstoppable. Even when fouled, Kuzma went 4-of-6 from the charity stripe.
"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."
"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 backup point guard Isaiah Wright, who finished with two points and 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 just one 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 and seemed unwilling to take a shot, despite the fact that his teammates kept feeding him for a shot. 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," Krystkowiak said. "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 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.
"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.
Utah limited UC Riverside leading scorer Taylor Johns to two points on 1-for-11 shooting. As a team, the Highlanders took advantage of their free throws, however, making all nine of their attempts. Utah shot much better in this game from the line, making 21 of their 28 shots.
Next up for Utah is a home tilt with Texas-Pan American on Wednesday at 6 p.m. MT.