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Runnin' Utes' Kyle Kuzma gets good karma after talk with Larry Kystkowiak

Utah Utes forward Kyle Kuzma (35) slam dunks towards the end of a Pac-12 Conference tournament quarterfinals against the USC Trojans at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Thursday, March 10, 2016.
Utah Utes forward Kyle Kuzma (35) slam dunks towards the end of a Pac-12 Conference tournament quarterfinals against the USC Trojans at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Thursday, March 10, 2016.
Chris Samuels,

LAS VEGAS — For Kyle Kuzma it came down to good karma.

Just three days after a “little chit-chat” with Larry Krystkowiak, as the coach put it, Kuzma had perhaps his best game as a Ute, tying his career-high with 23 points on 11-of-12 shooting, while also grabbing seven rebounds in Utah’s 80-72 victory over USC.

Kuzma scored eight more points Thursday night than he had in his previous four games combined and was a huge reason why the Utes are moving to the Pac-12 semifinals for the second straight year.

The sophomore from Michigan also came up with the shot of the night when the Utes were clinging to a precarious two-point lead with 2:22 left in the game after leading by as many as 13 points.

Although he had made just eight 3-pointers all season and was hitting only 19.5 percent from 3-point range, he calmly swished a trey from the right angle to give the Utes some needed breathing room.

“The past three weeks I’ve been kind of casual and not playing hard in practice and it kind of rubbed off in games,’’ Kuzma said. “Coach and I had a meeting — I just had to flat-out play harder. Coach always says good karma happens if you focus on little things in practice and it carries over to games.”

Kuzma had gone scoreless Saturday against Colorado, missing all four shots while committing three turnovers. In his previous three games, he scored a total of 15 points — five against Arizona, three against Arizona State and seven at USC.

Not happy with Kuzma’s performance of late, Krystkowiak summoned the big forward to a meeting on Monday.

“It was kind of funny — I was watching film and he thought we were going to have a film session,” Krystkowiak said. “I said, ‘We’re going to go in my office and have a little chit-chat’ and I wasn’t easy on him.’’

Krystkowiak told Kuzma he “wasn’t playing with the same energy and enthusiasm” and “seemed like he was in a funk,” among other things.

“I just wanted him to know how much we needed him in order to be successful,” said Krystkowiak. “He had a great week of practice and really responded. It was huge.”

And how about that 3-pointer of Kuzma's that pushed the Ute lead to five with a little over two minutes left?

“I’m not shooting it well this year but I know I can shoot and I’ve been trying to shoot as much as I could,’’ he said. “It fell.”

Jakob Poeltl had only 14 points and eight rebounds after getting 29 and 13 in the win over USC last month, but, this time, Kuzma picked up the slack.

“He played the high post well, used his space really well and knocked down some shots,” said Poeltl. “It does make it easier — I feel we play well off each other and whenever they double-team me, I find Kuz and he finds the space and when they suck into him he finds me under the rim. So we play well together.”

Kuzma hit his first eight shots before getting blocked by Chimezie Metu late in the game. Then he knocked down his big trey and added a pair of statement dunks in the final minute.