The Runnin’ Utes opened their season at home against the Northwest Nazarene Crusaders on Nov. 12. Utah would roll out to a quick start when Kyle Kuzma and Parker Van Dyke each drained a three pointer within the first minute of the game, giving the Utes a quick 6-0 lead. The Crusaders came within one point because of six turnovers by the Utes early in the first half, but that would be as close as it would get. Utah shot 45.6 percent on the night, and they pulled away with the 81-37 victory over the Crusaders.
Head coach Larry Krystkowiak gave 11 players on the roster minutes in Saturday’s matchup. New big man Tyler Rawson totalled 13 points, five rebounds and two blocks in his debut.
“It felt great to be in front of this atmosphere, playing against competition,” Rawson said. “It wasn’t the best, but I’m looking forward to building and playing against some of the best teams in the country.”
Despite the sluggish first half for the Utes, Kuzma showcased why he is a key veteran for the fresh Utah team in its game opener. Krystkowiak said he was impressed with the way Kuzma stepped up.
“I was real pleased with Kuz,” Krystkowiak said. “I think he was an energy guy. He gave the team energy in a lot of different ways.”
Kuzma finished off the night with 23 points and 19 rebounds.
“I felt like I did pretty good finding people and getting to the rim,” Kuzma said.
One of the biggest issues last year for the Utes was turnovers, and it appeared to be no different in Saturday’s game. Utah would total 19 turnovers, 13 of which happened in the first half alone. But for Kuzma it’s all about wanting to gel as a team.
“I feel like we got some jitters out as a team,” Kuzma said. “We had a rough start scoring the ball and turning the ball over as team. We’ve been practicing against each other for the past six weeks so it feels great.”
“I thought a lot of the life in the building and amongst our bench, gets sucked out when you turn the ball over. That’s one of those that’s hard. We weren’t very functional, six turnovers in the first media timeout is a lot when your goal is 12 in the entire game,” Krystkowiak said. “I can almost predict it in the first three to four years in a row, you come up in your first game turn the ball over too much, and you don’t make your free throws. But it’s a starting point for us, and I just thought we had guys who tried to push the issue a little too much and didn’t trust our offense. We cleaned it up a bit and got a little composed in the second half. Not reading too much into it. Again it’s a starting point for us to break down some film.”