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Utah basketball analysis: Jakob Poeltl is healthy again and not missing shots

SALT LAKE CITY — The college game is a tough transition for most freshmen and Utah center Jakob Poeltl is no exception to that.

However, the 7-foot Austrian is healthy and it's starting to show as the conference season winds down.

Poeltl led the Runnin' Utes with 18 points on 7-of-9 shooting and grabbed eight rebounds in the No. 11 Runnin' Utes' 76-61 win over California on Sunday. It's the second time in his last four outings that he has put up 14 or more points and in each case, he's finished a rebound or two shy of a double-double.

"I just tried to be aggressive," Poeltl said after Sunday's game. "I had some easy ones in the beginning and that kind of got me going and then it just felt good. Every shot felt great and it went in. I don't feel like I did anything different than I do any other time."

Prior to Utah's win at USC two weeks ago, Poeltl had gone 12 straight games without putting up double figures in scoring. That stretch began near the tail end of the non-conference schedule and consumed the first half of Utah's conference play.

It also didn't help that he also sat out Utah's Jan. 21 game against Washington State with an ankle injury either, an injury that head coach Larry Krystkowiak said wasn't minor. But as the season has worn on, the youngster is starting to put together the numbers he opened the season with.

The ankle is healthy, too.

Poeltl even joked that his teammates have been pressuring him to dunk more. The center gave exactly what they wanted on Sunday night.

He slammed in a couple of highlight reel-type dunks in the second half. He went 5-for-6 from the floor in the second half and helped lead Utah to 30 points in the paint. The freshman added a few more points from the free-throw line, going 4-for-6, and also had a pair of blocks in 25 minutes on the floor.

He also helped shut down Cal forward David Kravish, who wound up with just four points and four rebounds in 21 minutes. Kravish also shot just 2-of-11 from the floor — an almost eerily replication to what Utah was able to do to Stanford's Stefan Nastic on Thursday.

Equally important, Poeltl stayed out of foul trouble, which plagued him in Thursday's win over Stanford, when he finished with just three points and one rebound.

"I think that's the big key," Krystkowiak pointed out.

Krystkowiak added that he believe his big man's foul issues have contributed in not giving him the needed time on the court to condition off his injury, but that wasn't the case on Sunday.

"Our guys did a nice job finding him some pick and rolls and we ran some inside plays for him," Krystkowiak said. "They got into some foul trouble and we went at them and he was really solid. He got his confidence back, led us in scoring, got some blocked shots and managed to get out of foul trouble."

It's clear that as he's getting healthy and as he's gaining experience on the court, Poeltl is heating up again at the right time.

Poeltl has shot a staggering 81 percent from the floor over his last five games. He has also pulled down eight or more rebounds in three of those games — in addition to pouring in his first two double-digit performances in conference play.

"The ankle really hasn't bothered me in the last couple of games," Poeltl said. "It's not as much the ankle, it's just like getting to know the whole conference play. It's a little different than preseason and it was a little tough at the beginning but now I'm trying to be aggressive. Shots are falling for me."