SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Kyle Kuzma and the Utah Utes seemed to be going through the motions Saturday night against last-place Oregon State until the coaching staff got their attention at halftime.
Kuzma, who had 18 points and 12 rebounds, responded as the Utes raced to a commanding lead, but in the end it was just enough as Utah held off Oregon State’s late rally for an 86-78 victory.
“I was really ‘enthused’ at halftime,” Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak said. “I challenged them to play harder, get things crisper and tightened up. We came out in the second half and took care of business.”
David Collette had 13 points, and Parker Van Dyke and JoJo Zamora added 11 apiece as Utah (15-6, 6-3 Pac-12) led by as many as 28 points before subbing in the seldom-used reserves midway through the second half.
“Kyle is a leader, vocally and in his actions on the floor,” Collette said. “He’s a workhorse out there … and he gets us all going.”
Once he and the starters sat down, the Utes collapsed.
Stephen Thompson Jr. had a career-high 30 points and JaQuori McLaughin scored 22 to lead a furious comeback that got Oregon State (4-18, 0-9) within six points in the final minute.
“A couple of their guards had tremendous nights,” Krystkowiak said. “They were a focal point for us coming in here and we still didn’t have much of an answer for them. … They made some plays down the stretch to make it interesting.”
Utah’s bench players let the lead slip within single digits as Thompson scored on a dunk and two free throws to make it 78-70 with 2:00 remaining.
The Utes’ starters returned but Thompson scored again and then drew a foul on a 3-point attempt with 51.1 seconds left. He made two of three free throws to pull the Beavers to 81-74.
“I kind of figured a comeback could happen because we kept taking our foot off the pedal. Even in the first half, we weren’t really playing with energy. It came back to haunt us,” Zamora said.
The Utes shot 58 percent from the field but went just 14-of-26 shooting from the line as they struggled to put away the injury-decimated Beavers, the only winless team in the Pac-12.
Ute freshman Devon Daniels, who was late to some team events, didn’t start for the first time this season and scored nine points as Utah won its third game in the last four.
Lorenzo Bonam’s 3-pointer at the halftime buzzer gave Utah a 42-30 lead.
Utah: The Utes are 13-1 against teams outside the AP Top 25, but just 1-5 against ranked squads. Without a rigorous schedule, Utah needs to continue its march to a prime seed in the Pac-12 Conference. A deep run there may give the Utes a chance to slip into the NCAA Tournament. “We can play better,” Zamora said. “We can beat these top teams.”
Oregon State: As a young team hampered by injuries — notably leading scorer Tres Tinkle — the Beavers are looking to improve each game and play hard despite their record. Most of the players getting major minutes are freshmen and sophomores as they gather experience and build hope for the future.
STAT OF THE NIGHT
Shooting 53.8 percent from the free-throw line left the door open for the Beavers, who were 17-of-20 shooting from the line. “We work on it every day. I don’t really know what’s going on in games because I think we’re pretty solid in practices but it’s just not translating over to the games,” Collette said. Krystkowiak mentioned that the Utes might have to get creative and better simulate a game-type environment in workouts.
Utah is on the road, facing California on Thursday and Stanford on Saturday.
Oregon State hosts No. 7 Arizona on Thursday and Arizona State on Saturday.
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