Utah's starting lineup was without one of it's big guns, junior forward Jordan Loveridge, but Runnin' Utes center Jakob Poeltl and guard Delon Wright ensured that wouldn't matter. The two combined for 47 points (24 points from Poeltl and 23 from Wright) in routing North Dakota 90-53, and the Austrian 7-footer also pulled down 12 rebounds for his second double-double this season.
Poeltl scored six of Utah's first 11 points, helping the Utes off to an 11-2 run, and North Dakota trailed from the opening tip. The big center owned the paint and shot just slightly better than his season average of 50 percent from the free throw line (4-of-7), but he'll need to continue to improve his charity tosses as the Utes continue through the challenging non-conference slate and into Pac-12 play.
Wright had the kind of game that fans expected from the Wooden and Cousy awards candidate, finishing with 23 points (on 7-of-8 shooting, 1-for-1 from 3-point range, and 8-of-9 from the free throw line), five assists, three rebounds, and one steal. The big game bumps his season averages to 13.6 points, 4.6 assists, and 4.0 rebounds per game.
The Utes shot 66.7 percent from the field (30-of-45), with Poeltl and Wright combining for 94 percent shooting. Poeltl was a perfect 10-for-10. Utah did much of its damage in the paint, outscoring North Dakota 40-12 inside and out-rebounding the visitors 38-23.
North Dakota was led by guard Terrel De Rouen who finished with 12 points on 5-of-11 shooting, 1-for-3 from 3-point range, and 1-for-2 from the charity stripe.
North Dakota kept the game within 11 at the half, 37-26, scoring 13 points on nine Utah turnovers. But Larry Krystkowiak made it clear in the locker room at halftime that turnovers were not going to be acceptable, resulting in just five the rest of the way. However, the Runnin' Utes did have four more turnovers than North Dakota for the game.
Jaron Nash's two buckets in the early part of the second half helped North Dakota cut the Utes lead to just seven points, but that was as close as the opponents would get for the rest of the game. Utah blew the game open with a 13-2 run and never looked back.
In addition to Poeltl and Wright, starting guard Brandon Taylor chipped in with 14 points, 4 assists, and two rebounds. Taylor went 3-of-5 from deep and was a perfect 5-of-5 from the free throw line.
Even while Loveridge missed the game as a precaution due to knee discomfort, the Utes did get a player back from injury, swing guard/forward Dakarai Tucker, who was back after suffering a broken rib that kept him out of the first four games. Tucker chipped in with six points, three rebounds, and a block in just 12 minutes of play, but his return marks additional depth for an already very deeply talented team. Tucker shot just 1-of-4 from behind the 3-point arc, but his availability gives the Runnin' Utes another shooter who can stretch a defense.
Freshman forward Kyle Kuzma, who has been on a tear in the last couple of games, cooled off a little tonight, scoring six points, dishing out two assists, and pulling down just one rebound. However, the Michigan native also played just 17 minutes, so he made a solid impact in the time he was on the floor.
Utah (4-1 on the season and undefeated at home) next hosts the Hornets of Alabama State (2-2, 0-1 away) to close out their holiday round robin tournament. The Hornets are coming off a 91-79 thumping of Texas-Pan American, led by 14 points and nine rebounds from 6-10 center Wendell Lewis. Guard Jamel Walters (5-9) tied for the team-high in points and added eight assists. The Runnin' Utes will need to run Alabama State off the 3-point line where they shot a scorching 47.1 percent against UTPA on 8-of-17.