SALT LAKE CITY — Devon Daniels, a freshman from Battle Creek, Michigan, earned a starting spot in the Utah basketball lineup this season primarily because of his defensive ability, which coach Larry Krystkowiak has praised this fall.
In Friday night’s 85-67 victory over UC Riverside, Daniels proved his can score and rebound as well.
The 6-foot-5, 190-pounder scored a career-high 14 points on 7-of-10 shooting and led the team with 11 rebounds from his guard spot. It hardly stunned Kyrstkowiak, though.
“It isn't a surprise,” Kryskowiak said. “He’s as good a three-man on the glass that we’ve had. We’re sending him to the glass trying to get offensive boards and he does a nice job with his physical nature. We knew when we recruited him that’s what we were getting.”
While Daniels was getting his first-ever double-double, another Ute freshman nearly did the same as 7-foot Jayce Johnson finished with 12 points and nine rebounds in just 19 minutes of action.
“He was solid for us and it was good to see,” said Krystkowiak. “Jayce has been putting some time in around the basket, slowing down a little bit. Oftentimes freshman coming in jump up a level and the game is going pretty fast. Tonight Jayce made three or four post moves that were under control and took advantage of his size.”
Also playing well for the Utes were two other Michigan natives, Lorenzo Bonam of Inkster, who had 21 points and 10 rebounds, and Kyle Kuzma of Flint, who had 18 points.
“I’m really happy for Zo,” said Krystkowiak of Bonam. “He’s had a couple of great weeks of practice like we all expected. He didn’t start the season like we all expected and he was a little embarrassed by some of the things. The thing I’ve noticed from him is a real consistent effort.”
The Utes were coming off three victories by an average of 43.3 points, but they got more of a challenge from the Highlanders, who play in the Big West Conference.
It was tied at 21 midway through the first half when Utah got rolling with 11 straight points and took a 46-34 lead into halftime. The Utes came out in a zone defense in the second half and quickly pushed the lead to 20 at 54-34.
Eventually, the lead reached 25 at 70-45 before the Utes appeared to lose focus with five turnovers in six possessions as Riverside ran off eight straight points before the Utes pushed the lead back to 23.
The Utes got another solid effort from Tyler Rawson, who made his second straight start and finished with nine points, eight rebounds, two blocks and a team-high five assists. JoJo Zamora added eight points off the bench.
UC Riverside was led by Chance Murray with 17 points, while Dikymbe Martin, starting in place of leading scorer Malik Thames who missed the game because of a personal issue, added 15 points and center Alex Larsson added 10 points and seven rebounds.
Next up for Utah is Butler, which was off to a 5-0 start heading into Friday’s late game against Arizona in the Las Vegas Invitational.
“We know we’re going to have to be a lot better with Butler rolling in here Monday night,” said Krystkowiak. “We're going to have our hands full with a number of guys. We’re going to have to be sharper and be ready to grind it out.”