SALT LAKE CITY (AP) – Arizona State came out in a compact zone, seeking to stop Utah big man Jakob Poeltl. The Sun Devils dared the Utes to beat them with perimeter shots.
That’s exactly what happened, right from the start.
”When you see what Jakob has been doing, it looked like they could live with our outside shots. We’re a great shooting team. They kind of picked their poison,” said Jordan Loveridge, who made three of the early 3-pointers and finished with 14 points.
Brekkott Chapman had a season-high 15 points and nine rebounds for the Utes, who scored the first 15 points in their fifth straight victory.
Utah (22-7, 11-5 Pac-12) is just a half-game back of first-place Oregon.
”We continued to move the ball well. Guys were out there having fun together. It was a heck of a performance,” coach Larry Krystkowiak said.
Obinna Oleka finally scored for ASU to make it 15-2, but Utah ran off another 15 straight points. The eye-popping 30-2 advantage produced some remarkable statistics, too: The Sun Devils started 1 for 16 from the field with four shots blocked and had 10 turnovers to go along with that single basket.
”They came out strong like a team that was hungry to play well early in the game,” Arizona State coach Bobby Hurley said. ”They hit some 3s early. We were like a boxer that took one on the chin early in the game. We didn’t recover quick enough.”
When Oleka finally made another bucket, on a putback 5:08 before halftime, the Utah crowd let out a loud mock cheer for ASU.
Gerry Blakes had 10 points and Oleka finished with nine points and 16 rebounds for Arizona State (14-14, 4-11). After shooting 14 percent in the first half, the Sun Devils completed the game at 25 percent from the field.
”We really wanted to focus on defense. If we want to keep playing as long as we can this season, that has to come first,” Chapman said.
The Utes led at halftime by a stunning 44-10 margin and had more rejections (six) than the Sun Devils had field goals (four).
Nearly a year ago, 13th-ranked Utah held a similarly astounding halftime lead of 41-9 on its way to an 83-41 win over Arizona State.
The Sun Devils haven’t won in their last 10 games at Utah, a skid that stretches to 1975. The Utes are 14-1 at home this season.
ASU’s collapsing zone defense was focused on Poeltl, who had seven points and seven rebounds in 23 minutes. But that left plenty of room for Utah’s perimeter shooters. Quick passing gave them a bevy of open looks, and the Utes shot 16 of 40 from beyond the arc.
”Jakob (and Kyle Kuzma) have been so dominant inside so it was nice to pick up the slack when those guys were getting double- and triple-teamed down there,” Loveridge said.
It’s been a rough few days for the Sun Devils. First, losing 99-61 to rival Arizona last week hurt. Then, Hurley announced Tuesday that junior guard Andre Spight – a key reserve who was coming off two of his highest-scoring games of the season – has left the program and intends to transfer.
That left Hurly feeling as though forcing Utah away from the hoop was his team’s only chance at an upset. ASU was down to eight healthy and eligible scholarship players and just 10 players overall.
”We wanted them to shoot 3s. We had no choice,” Hurley said. ”We decided after the Arizona game we had to address our interior defense and give that more support, which then led to their effectiveness behind the arc.”
Arizona State: The Sun Devils didn’t get their first assist until early in the second half. … Oleka was nearly a one-man team in the first half as he had eight points and 12 rebounds while his teammates went 1 for 18 and grabbed eight rebounds. … ASU had nine assists and 15 turnovers in its lowest-scoring output of the season.
Utah: The high-scoring post duo of Poeltl and Kuzma had only six field goal attempts and 10 points combined. … Utah outscored ASU in the second half 37-36 as reserves played the majority of the minutes. … The Utes had eight blocked shots and outscored Arizona State 25-2 in points off turnovers. ”Overall, we were pretty darn mature,” Krystkowiak said.
”Our defense is what I was really impressed with,” Krystkowiak said. ”We did a nice job on their leading scorer, Tra Holder. He’s a guy that’s kind of the head of the snake for them. We were always aware where he was.”
Holder, who averages 15.1 points per game, was scoreless and had nine turnovers in 32 minutes.
”As a group, we did a great job on him. He didn’t get many open looks and we kept him from doing the things he likes to do, things we saw on film,” Loveridge said.
Arizona State plays at Colorado on Sunday.
Utah hosts No. 9 Arizona on Saturday.
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