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Eight takeaways from the Runnin' Utes' loss to No. 18 Butler

SALT LAKE CITY — Monday night’s game at the Huntsman Center between the Utah Runnin’ Utes and the 18th-ranked Butler Bulldogs provided the first real test of the season for a Utah team that has 12 players who weren’t on it last year.

In a contest the Utes lost 68-59, there were plenty of things to take away, both positive and negative.

We’ll start with the good first.


Kyle Kuzma

The junior is undoubtedly Utah’s best player, and he was, by far, the most consistent performer Monday. He finished with 21 points and 10 rebounds, both of which were game-highs. He didn’t shoot particularly well, going 7-of-19 (0-for-5 from behind the 3-point line), but he got to the foul line where he was a respectable 7-of-10.

He was a little out of his element playing up front, but he’ll likely appear on the wing more once Utah State transfer David Collette is eligible Dec. 22.


Lorenzo Bonam creating offense

The Utes’ other returning starter scored 17 points, joining Kuzma as the only players on the home team to put up double figures. He was key in helping Utah stay close in the first half, as he was aggressive getting to the basket against a Butler defense that kept the Utes quite stagnant otherwise.

Bonam scored just two points in the second half, however. The Bulldogs stretched their lead from six at intermission to double digits.


Rebounding

A big key in Utah being able to keep things close early was the fact that it had 12 second-chance points in the first half, and the Utes wound up winning the rebounding battle 33-31 against a good-sized Bulldogs frontcourt.

Salt Lake Community College transfer Tyler Rawson added five rebounds to Kuzma’s 10, and Bonam had three from the guard spot.


Fight

Butler stretched its lead to 17 points with 6:47 remaining, but as is typical of teams coached by Larry Krystkowiak, Utah kept fighting and cut the deficit to eight with 1:37 left, giving it a chance at the end.


The negative

While there were some good things that happened Monday, there are a number of areas the Utes lacked in that they will need to improve upon moving forward.


Offensive struggles

One of the chief challenges with so many new faces is finding cohesion on offense. Even in the Utes’ first few games against lesser competition, they struggled with turnovers, and that problem was amplified against a very good Butler team.

While Bonam was good at creating his offense, he struggled as the floor general with six giveaways and otherwise had a tough time managing the game. Rawson committed four turnovers and three others had two. The Bulldogs capitalized, finishing with 23 points off turnovers.

Even when Utah held onto the ball, it too often had a hard time getting a good shot. Part of that had to do with Butler’s defense, but right now, the Utes don’t have anyone beyond Bonam who can create a shot. SMU transfer Sedrick Barefield should help in that regard when he becomes eligible Dec. 22.

When players did get good shots Monday night, they had a tough time making them. Overall, Utah shot 36.5 percent from the field, with no one beside Kuzma, Bonam and freshman wing Devon Daniels making more than one shot.

The Utes will certainly need more production going forward. Collette and Barefield should help in this department.


Who is going to step up inside?

Although Utah won the rebounding battle, it otherwise struggled inside on both ends of the floor. Rawson and freshman Jayce Johnson had zero points combined until the 11:24 mark of the second half (they finished with nine together) and had eight rebounds.

A good outside shooter, Rawson didn’t make his lone field goal until he hit a 3-pointer with 2:15 remaining.

The duo had three blocks and two steals but had a hard time containing Butler big man Tyler Wideman, who scored 15 points. Andrew Chrabascz added 11. Collette should be a major factor down low, but Johnson and Rawson are going to have to contribute during Pac-12 play.


Moving forward

Overall, the Utes showed nice fight keeping the final margin of defeat under 10 points against a very good Bulldogs squad, and it both stands to reason that they’ll shoot better and that Collette and Barefield will help immensely when they’re eligible.

Nevertheless, Utah does need to get better offensively if it hopes to be competitive in the Pac-12 this season.