SALT LAKE CITY (AP) – Utah has three players that hail from the state of Michigan and the trio made all the difference against UC Riverside.
“We just have a little grit to ourselves and we always try and play hard. We get after it,” Kyle Kuzma (Flint, Michigan) said.
Even freshman wing Devon Daniels (Battle Creek, Michigan) got into the act with 14 points and 11 rebounds and sneaked a dig on Kuzma during the post-game press conference.
“Yep, me and ‘Zo are pretty tough but I don’t know about Koozy,” Daniels said with a laugh.
Freshman center Jayce Johnson scored 12 points and grabbed nine rebounds for the Utes, who had a 32-point advantage in points scored in the paint.
Chance Murray had 17 points and backcourt mate Dikymbe Martin added 15 for the Highlanders (1-3), who were tied with the Utes at 21 midway through the first half. The Highlanders converted 10 of their 21 3-point attempts.
“Our guards played incredible but Utah’s length just really bothered us at the rim,” UCR coach Dennis Cutts said.
JoJo Zamora hit a 3-pointer to start an 11-0 run that ended shortly before halftime — the Highlanders struggled to find the lanes that had been available earlier in the game while the Utes started following any misses with putbacks.
“We just got stops, that was the biggest thing,” Kuzma said. “Because then we can run and score in transition. That was our mindset for the rest of the game.”
Utah (4-0) used a 10-0 run that bridged the halves to extend its advantage to 54-34 and coasted from there. To cap the surge, Daniels took a pass from Parker Van Dyke and made a layup with 17:08 to play.
“That’s how I play. I just attack my opponent . I go hard to the rim,” Daniels said.
Though the Highlanders couldn’t get closer than 15 points down the stretch, they kept Utah’s starters in the game until the final minutes, much longer than they played previously this season.
UC Riverside: Before the game, Coach Dennis Cutts said he hopes these tough early games pay dividends in Big West Conference play, where the Highlanders are picked to finish seventh. Despite the lopsided results, he said his players are a confident bunch and are learning game by game.
Utah: After the Utes won their first three games by an average of 43 points, the Highlanders provided more resistance and presented a bit more size. With just two returners with significant experience – Kuzma and Bonam – the Utes scheduled to avoid any heavyweights before facing Butler next Monday. That’s when Utah will test just how well its young team has gelled.
UC Riverside continues its road-heavy start to the season with a trip to UCLA on Wednesday.
Utah will host Butler on Monday. The Bulldogs have won their first five games of the season and are essentially the Utes’ first formidable opponent of the season.
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