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Utes drop to Hawaii in Wooden Legacy opener 90-79

NCAA Basketball: Utah at Minnesota Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

This team has a lot of work to do, because right now I’m not sure what kind of basketball team that this is for the Utah Utes. They have a lot of talent, but it’s so young, and there’s so many new faces that it’s obvious that guys don’t know how they fit in yet, and they don’t know their roles. None of this is a big surprise, but through four games you can see the growing pains happening before our eyes.

In Thursday’s late night game against the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors, they played a solid first 10 minutes of the game. They weren’t lighting it up, but they were making some shots and keeping Hawaii within reach. Then for about the next 20-25 minutes, they couldn’t get a stop, and the offense just seemed lost. Utah trailed by just eight at halftime, but it felt like it should be much worse... and eventually the floor gates opened. Hawaii actually stretched the lead to over 20 in the second half, and the rout was on. Later in the second half, however, it seems that Coach K had found a combination of players that went on the attack and started to cut into the Rainbow Warriors lead. Donnie Tillman, Vante Hendrix, Parer Van Dyke, Both Gach and Riley Battin put Hawaii on their heels. They started to find themselves hitting some perimeter shots, and getting some stops on defense. They cut that once 20 point lead down to single digits with around a minute remaining, but couldn’t dig all the way out of the hole.

The Utes were led by Donnie Tillman’s 16 points, but he was joined by Battin with 16, and Gach’s 10. Jayce Johnson also had a nice stretch in that first half with 8 points, and actually helped keep the Utes in the game for a stretch.

It was encouraging to see the Utes continue to battle, and threaten with a couple minutes left in the game, but the 25-30 minutes of poor play on both sides of the court shows how much work is needed. They allowed Hawaii to shoot over 50% on the game, while the Utes only shot 44%. Utah went 7 of 26 from three, but all 7 of those makes came from the bench. From the free throw line, the Utes were 20 of 29, and were really struggling there in the first half to make the easy ones. In the paint the Utes struggled, especially early on missing a bunch of bunnies around the basket.

Overall, I liked what I saw from Gach tonight, and Tillman continues to be reliable. Hendrix also continues to impress me, but he needs to continue to improve his constancy from the floor. Barefield didn’t play well tonight, going 1 of 8 from the floor and having four fouls. The Utes need Barefield to play well, especially shooting the ball, because he opens the floor up for everybody else.

This could be a rebuilding year for the Utes, as they continue to work with this young roster, but we’ll get a good feel for this teams resiliency tomorrow.

Hopefully they bounce back strong.