No starter played more than 22 minutes in the lopsided affair, as the Runnin' Utes had too much depth and talent for Texas-Pan American Wednesday night, winning the first game of Utah's Thanksgiving Tournament 85-48.
"It started with our defense," Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak said. "I know we started off a little slow. Three out of our first seven possessions were turnovers. Once we started guarding a little bit, we got out in transition and pushed and I thought our guys moved the ball really well. Had a high assist total during that time. Attacked the glass."
For the second straight game, freshman forward Kyle Kuzma led the team from the bench with 14 points, adding six rebounds and three assists. Kuzma, who at 6-9 is proving to be a weapon both inside and out, shot 6-of-8 from the field, 1-of-2 on three-pointers, and hit his only free throw.
"The coaching staff has been preaching to me just to play my game, so I've been getting a lot more confidence," Kuzma said.
Starter Jordan Loveridge scored 11 points on 3-of-4 from deep. Senior All-America candidate Delon Wright added 12 points, two assists, and one rebound, while guard Brandon Taylor chipped in with nine points and five assists.
Center Jakob Poeltl played just 20 minutes but made his presence felt in a short time. Poeltl finished with a game-high 10 rebounds and blocked three shots on the defensive end. Even while he was a highly coveted international recruit, the Austrian 7-footer has had immediate impact as a freshman and will be a big factor in the Utes success, with the meat of the non-conference schedule looming in December.
"I just try to bring energy," Poeltl said. "Go to the glass every time. Go for every rebound. Except for the beginning, I finished my looks around the basket."
One area of concern, however, continues to be the free throw line. Poeltl is averaging just .481 from the charity strip, and went 2-for-4 in this game. With his presence in the paint drawing defenders, Poeltl is likely to go to the line a great deal during big non-conference and conference games. Down the stretch, at the moment, Poeltl could be a liability and inspire some Hack-a-Jak strategies from opposing teams.
Freshman point guard Isaiah Wright led the Utes in minutes played (24) and has been getting more and more run with the second team. Wright finished with six points, tied starter Taylor for game high with five assists, and also blocked two shots. Having the talent and stability with the reserves that I. Wright brings can help the Utes continue to push when the starters have foul trouble or are resting on the bench.
Fellow freshman Brekkot Chapman played just 15 minutes before fouling out, but scored nine points, pulled down five rebounds and blocked a shot. Chapman has been extremely efficient with his minutes and is smooth at both ends of the floor. Starting power forward Chris Reyes may give way to one of the talented freshman some time during this season.
The Utes (3-1) shot 59.1 percent (26-of-44) from the field and 61.5 percent (8 of 13) from distance to hand Texas-Pan American (3-1) their first loss of the season. Utah also dominated around the basket, outscoring UTPA 30-14 in the paint and outrebounding the Broncs 35-22.
Utah next takes on North Dakota at 8 p.m. MT on Friday. North Dakota started the tournament by beating Alabama State 75-68 on the strength of Jaron Nash's 22 points. The senior 6-8 forward will easily be a prime target for the defensive-minded Utes.