UC Riverside-Utah Preview
Utah's first loss did little to dissuade the Utes from believing a special season still lies ahead of them.
A convincing win over UC Riverside on Friday night would go a long way toward endorsing that sentiment.
The No. 25 Utes (1-1) fell to 16th-ranked San Diego State 53-49 on Tuesday in a slow, defensive battle that featured only 35 first-half points. Utah had allowed just 38 points with under four minutes remaining before letting the Aztecs slip away late.
Both teams shot under 33 percent from the field, including a dreadful 6-for-25 performance from 3-point range by the Utes.
"We may have set the game back a little bit in terms of spectators and TV ratings, but I thought both teams were good defensively," Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak said. "I'm really pleased with our defense, but we've got a ways to go offensively."
No player scored in double figures for Utah. Brandon Taylor led the way with nine points, including a 3-pointer that sparked an ultimately futile rally.
"Offensively, we couldn't get things rolling," guard Delon Wright said. "The basket was tight for everybody. It was just one of those nights, honestly."
Wright, who led Utah with 15.5 points per game last season, did not hit a shot until 1:22 remained in the game and had seven points - the third-lowest mark of his career.
Despite the poor shooting, Wright found plenty of positives in the way Utah played down the stretch. Trailing by ten with 40 seconds remaining, the Utes quickly scored 11 points behind baskets from Wright, Taylor and Jordan Loveridge before falling short.
"That was big," Wright said. "I felt that we can take that into our next game. We lost to them but nobody quit on the team. We all believed we could come back and win."
Wright's 56.1 field-goal percentage last season was the best by a Utah player since Luke Nevil in 2008-09, and his 174 total assists were Utah's most since Andre Miller had 186 in 1998-99. Wright was named to the John R. Wooden Award preseason top 50.
Like Wright, Loveridge also looks to bounce back and avoid back-to-back single-digit scoring performances for just the second time since his freshman season in 2012-2013.
Jakob Poeltl looks to continue an impressive start to his freshman year. After recording 18 points and 10 rebounds in Utah's season-opening win over Ball State, Poeltl played 35 minutes and grabbed 12 rebounds Tuesday.
"The veterans didn't play as well as we should have but the younger guys stepped up," Wright said. "They played well, hit some shots and got some rebounds."
This matchup marks the first meeting between UC Riverside (1-1) and Utah, which is 68-15 all-time against the Big West Conference.
The Highlanders are coming off a 70-69 loss to Sacramento State on Tuesday. Taylor Johns scored 19 points and hauled in 11 rebounds, but UC Riverside allowed the winning basket with 17 seconds remaining.
The Highlanders allowed Sacramento State to shoot 54.7 percent from the field, including 55.6 percent from behind the arc.
UC Riverside, which was 10-21 last season, has not played a ranked foe since losing 70-57 to No. 24 USC on Dec. 29, 2007, and is 0-8 against Top 25 teams since Nov. 29, 2000.