The reason behind the easy scheduling for the non-conference portion of the schedule this season was to give this new roster the opportunity to find chemistry and confidence before facing tougher opponents. On Friday night the Utes had one last chance to polish things up against UC Riverside before things ratchet up a notch. The Runnin’ Utes looked much more like a seasoned team against the Highlanders as they cruised to a 85-67 victory which included a very balanced effort from the Utah roster. Utah reached 4-0 behind the play of the usual anchors, Lorenzo Bonam and Kyle Kuzma, as well as strong performances from newcomers, Devon Daniels, Tyler Rawson and Jayce Johnson.
With so many new faces on this team it is vital to Utah’s success atop have consistent performances from both Bonam and Kuzma. The duo definitely answered the call Friday night in the Huntsman Center. As the senior guard and the engine that starts Utah’s offense, Bonam had a career night. As he has shown in the past, Bonam has a very smooth way to work around defenders and get to the rim in high traffic. Bonam diced his way to the hoop on his way to a career high of 21 points.
After being challenged by the coaching staff to fight for more rebounds in order to get the fast breaks started easier, Bonam responsed with another career high by grabbing 10 rebounds. Guards usually accumulate rebounds chasing down long rebounds off of perimeter shots, but for the majority of his, Bonam was right in the heat of the battle grabbing the boards in the paint against bigger opponents. This marked the first double-double of Bonam’s collegiate career.
Kuzma continues to do what this team will need from him throughout the season. The junior forward finished the night with 18 points, four rebounds, three assists and two blocks. A promising sign is that Kuzma is learning when the appropriate time is for him to look for his own shot or when to give the ball to his teammate. When Kuzma plays smart basketball it is really hard to defend him.
Coming Out Party
If you weren’t aware of freshman guard Devon Daniels before Friday night it may be impossible to forget him now. Daniels definitely had his best night in a Utah uniform. Daniels had his best shooting percentage of the season, making seven of his 10 shots (70%). Daniels has already shown his strong ability and willingness to exert himself on the defensive side of the ball, and against the Highlanders he showed just how impactful he can be offensively for Utah.
Daniels scored 14 points by using his size, strength and body control to convert buckets underneath the hoop. Daniels is an extremely smart player who knows how to move without the ball. He always seems to find a way to slip behind his defender, creating an easy passing angle for his teammates and he has the composure to catch the ball and get a shot off under pressure. Daniels is still struggling from deep, as was evident by his airball of his only three point attempt of the night, but he is solid at the rim.
Like Bonam, Daniels excepted the challenge to the guards to rebound better. Daniels led the entire team in rebounds with his 11 boards. Perhaps his most impressive rebound came off of a desperation shot from Bonam with the shot clock expiring. Bonam badly airballed the shot and Daniels grabbed the ball in the air around his midsection and somehow was able to make an attempt to get the ball to the hoop, and the circus shot fell through the net with the buzzer going off.
As if 17 & 11 wasn’t enough, Daniels also contributed five assists, one block and a steal in a great all-around performance.
Rawson the Floor General
In a game where the guards were the best rebounders, why not have your center be your best passer? Tyler Rawson tied Devon Daniels to lead the Utes with five assists. Not only is Rawson a great defender and a very solid scorer, but it is very clear that he has an extremely strong court vision by the way he moves.
As a post man, Rawson does more than put a body on his defender in attempt to pin him on his weak side. Rawson understands the importance of every inch and beats his defender to his spot so that he can make easier passing angles for his perimeter players. Using that same instinct, Rawson also can read when and where a player will have an advantage over his defender and he has the ability to deliver the ball at that exact moment.
The very first play of the game started with Rawson catching the ball on the low post and then quickly dropping the ball to as slashing Kuzma for a power dunk. Later on in the half Rawson caught the ball on the low right block, he turned to the baseline, drawing the defender, then he skipped the ball along the baseline to Daniels come in from the wing for a basket. The very next play he had the ball on the elbow and dumped the ball perfectly to Kuzma for an easy bucket. Rawson has the ability to be an elite passing big man.
Play of the Game
In the early minutes of the second half Utah did something on the court that embodies everything the Utes hope to accomplish on the hardwood. It began with defense as Rawson blocked a shot attempt by Secean Johnson. Rawson swatted the ball into the corner of the court where Parker Van Dyke hustled to the spot and was able to control the ball before it went out of bounds. Van Dyke quickly moved up court with his eyes ahead of him and saw Daniels who had immediately ran in transition down the court. Van Dyke made a perfect half court pass to Daniels in stride as he crossed the hoop for an easy lay-in. Defense and hustle leads to easy transition buckets, a great recipe for success.
Baby Steps for Johnson
The talented freshman center, Jayce Johnson, has struggled coming into his own to begin his college career. Johnson has appeared rushed as he’s attempted to adjust to the speed of the game. He’s had trouble holding on to rebounds, catching balls in the paint and making his field goals. Johnson took major strides against UC Riverside as the game seemed to slow down for him. Johnson led the team in shooting percentage with a 71.4% performance. He scored 12 points and was just one rebound shy of double-double, pulling down nine boards. Johnson’s hands seemed more sure, as seen when Kuzma threw the ball up to Johnson in the paint with three Highlanders in the vicinity and Johnson was able to get the ball in traffic and get the bucket.
He also showed more patience Friday night. Twice he slowly backed his defender down and through up a soft baby hook with the left hand. It may not have been a perfect game from Johnson, but it was a very important step in the right direction.
The Utes will now welcome their most difficult test of the season, the Butler Bulldogs will travel to Salt Lake City for a Monday night show down. The Bulldogs are fresh off a huge victory against the #8 Arizona Wildcats in the Las Vegas Invitational. The Bulldogs defeated the Wildcats 69-65 with a balanced effort, having four players in double figures, and a strong defensive effort. Utah will have to be very sound and play within their system to overcome the test they will face as the ball tips at 7:00 PM MT and can be seen on the Pac 12 Networks