SALT LAKE CITY — Slow starts and strong finishes were the story Monday night as Utah hosted a pesky NAIA College of Idaho team in the Huntsman Center. The Utes fell behind 16-2 to start the game as the Yotes hit their first four 3-pointers. But Utah hung tight, settled in and took over the lead at 24-21 near the midway point in the half en route to a 115-74 win.
The victory marked the 28th straight home win for the Utes over non-conference opponents and capped Utah’s non-conference schedule. Utah (11-2) now turns to Pac-12 play with three straight road games, beginning New Year’s Day at Stanford followed by Cal and Colorado.
Utah enters league play with a four-game win streak, including back-to-back outings of 100 points or more as it defeated Delaware State 105-58 prior to the win over Idaho. It’s the first time Utah has hit for 100 plus points in back-to-back games since 1973-74.
Utah had five players in double digits Monday, led by Kyle Kuzma and Dakarai Tucker’s 17 points. Jakob Poeltl and Brandon Taylor each added 15, with Poeltl grabbing a game-high 10 rebounds. The latter stat was expected as the Yotes don’t boast a player over 6-8. Poeltl hit all six of his field goals in the game. Lorenzo Bonam rounded out the group with 12 points.
After going into the locker room with a 52-39 lead, Utah watched Idaho creep to within 8 points before kick-starting its offense that rolled the rest of the game. The slow starts were uncharacteristic for the Utes.
Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak credited Idaho for its play and acknowledged his team had about as “ugly of a beginning” for a game as it’s had in a long time.
“We were exposed in a lot of ways, we weren’t ready to play from the tipoff,” said Krystowiak. “That really got our attention and we’ve got to be better.”
On the night, the Yotes fired off 39 shots beyond the arc, for which they made 14. Idaho did win the turnover battle 17-13.
“The thing that still concerns me is to have 17 turnovers — eight in the first half, nine in the second. I don’t know if we got a little bit loose with some of our passing,” said Krystowiak who was pleased with his team’s 28 assists.
Utah has put an emphasis on team play since its loss against Wichita State earlier in December. The Utes' 28 assists Monday followed up a season-high 30 against Delaware State last week.
“Once we share the ball, we just start flowing a lot better,” said Tucker. “It’s not doing ‘me plays’ it’s working as a team.”
Utah’s 115 points Monday is the third most scored by a Utah squad since 1980. The output also marked the first time a Utah team has posted three 100 points plus games since 1978-79. Utah shot 62.7 on the night.
Idaho coach Scott Garson is a recognizable face to Huntsman faithful. Garson, who is in his third season at the helm of the Yotes, worked under former Utah coach Rick Majerus for five years as a graduate assistant, video coordinator and assistant coach.
“This was a lot of fun,” said Garson. “This was a special opportunity not only for our team, but this (the Huntsman Center) is a really special place for me.”
Aitor Zubizarreta led the Yotes with a game-high 19 points. Joey Nebeker chipped in 15 for Idaho and Dominique Jordan added 11.