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Utes not apologizing for early schedule as they await UC Riverside Friday night

Utah vs. Coppin State at the Hunstman Center in Salt Lake City on Friday, Nov. 18, 2016
Utah vs. Coppin State at the Hunstman Center in Salt Lake City on Friday, Nov. 18, 2016
Laura Seitz,

SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah basketball team has beaten its first three opponents this year by a combined total of 131 points. That’s an average margin of 43.7 points per game.

But Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak isn’t apologizing for his early-season scheduling with another apparent lightweight opponent coming to the Huntsman Center Friday night in UC Riverside.

“We didn’t expect it,” he said of the three opening blowouts against a pair of Division II schools, Northwest Nazarene and Concordia, and a Coppin State team that was playing its third road game in three nights. “Our team needs to gain some confidence and our team needs to play together.”

Krystkowiak said because he has a young, inexperienced team with only four players back from last year’s 27-9 team, the Utes needed to ease into their schedule this year, especially with two projected starters, David Collette and Sedrick Barefield, not being eligible until mid-December.

“We’re not going to be at full throttle for awhile until we have a couple of players back and we scheduled accordingly,” Krystkowiak said. “We gained out of it what we needed to. We had some things we were exposed in and we corrected some of those things and that’s what the preseason is all about.”

The Utes should be tested a little more Friday night against UC Riverside, a team that competes in the Big West Conference. Still it was picked to finish in seventh place in a nine-team league and comes in with a 1-2 record with losses to Portland and UNLV. On Monday night, the Utes will face their first Pac-12-like opponent when Butler plays at the Huntsman Center.

“Our defensive transition and offensive execution have taken a step forward and now we’ve got another set of opponents coming in that are going to present some different problems,” Krystkowiak said. “It’s all part of the process and hopefully you’re learning from each one and are ready for the next one.”

The Utes are led this year by junior forward Kyle Kuzma and senior guard Lorenzo Bonam. Kuzma, who tweaked his ankle in practice earlier this week, is averaging 14.7 points and 12.0 rebounds per game on 50 percent shooting. Bonam has bounced back from a poor opening game and is averaging 13.7 points on 63.6 shooting from the field.

Other starters for the Utes are expected to be sophomore Parker Van Dyke (11.7 ppg), freshman Devon Daniels (7.0 ppg) and either junior Tyler Rawson (10.3 ppg, 8.0 rpg) or freshman Jayce Johnson (4.3 ppg, 9.3 rpg) in the post. Junior guard JoJo Zamora (13.3 ppg) is the top player off the bench for Utah.

Senior guard Malik Thames leads Riverside with 12.3 points per game followed by freshman guard Dikymbe Martin at 11.7 ppg off the bench. Two other starters are Chance Murray (10.3 ppg) and Secean Johnson (9.0 ppg).