SALT LAKE CITY (AP) Making any sort of positive play around the rim is growing progressively harder for teams facing Utah. That's because freshman center Jakob Poeltl has quickly claimed the post as his territory.
Poeltl faced little resistance in taking control of all phases of the game during Utah's 90-53 victory over North Dakota in the Utah Thanksgiving Tournament on Friday night. The 7-footer was a disruptive force around the rim all night. He scored 24 points on 10-of-10 shooting, collected 12 rebounds and blocked five shots to earn his second career double-double.
''I have a pretty good feeling for where the ball is going to go,'' Poeltl said. ''The main thing is probably just trying to get the ball. Putting all of your heart and effort in and going after every rebound - you're going to get some.''
Everything he did made the Utes (4-1) look that much more imposing to the rest of the Pac-12 than they did before the season began. Once the ball made it into Poeltl's hands, it meant good things for Utah and bad news for North Dakota.
''It just gives us an option when we go to the basket,'' Utah guard Delon Wright said. ''If a big commits to us, we know we can throw to him and he's going to catch the ball and finish or get fouled. It's a real plus to have him on the block when we're driving.''
Wright added 23 points on 7-of-8 shooting for Utah. As a team, the Utes shot 30-of-45 (66.7 percent) from the field. It helped Utah win its third straight game and remain unbeaten at home.
Terrel De Rouen had 12 points to lead North Dakota, which trailed from start to finish. North Dakota (2-3) shot just 19 of 58 (32.8 percent) from the field and struggled to contain Utah around the basket. The Utes outscored North Dakota 40-12 in the paint and out-rebounded UND 38-23.
''Offensively, we strayed away from what we were trying to do,'' UND coach Brian Jones said. ''We wanted to get penetration for extra passing. I thought our guys had some tough shots over big bodies. They are so big. Our guys being in attack mode is great, but their length gave us a lot of problems at the rim. We took a lot of tough shots.''
Poeltl wasted no time taking over around the basket. He scored three quick baskets to help Utah surge out to an 11-2 lead. The freshman 7-footer scored 14 points to go with six rebounds by halftime.
North Dakota cut the lead in half on a pair of jumpers from De Rouen. Utah responded by scoring on four straight possessions to mount a 10-0 run and go up 21-7 with 9:56 left in the half. Chris Reyes sparked the run by making a jumper and then stealing the ball from De Rouen to set up a 3-pointer for Kenneth Ogbe on the next possession.
North Dakota chipped away at the lead from the perimeter. After De Rouen and Lenny Antwi made 3-pointers on back-to-back possessions, UND only trailed 28-23 with 3:12 remaining before halftime.
Utah started attacking the rim more frequently and was able to stretch the lead back out before going into the locker room. A layup from Wright followed by a 3-point play from Kyle Kuzma a few seconds later helped the Utes carve out a 37-26 halftime lead.
''We wanted to get the ball inside,'' Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak said. ''We thought we had an advantage inside. Jakob did a nice job. Anytime you can go 10-for-10, you know you're doing something right. There's been a focus for us to feed the post. It's been a lost art. It's a skill. We haven't necessarily been great at it over the last few years.''
Jaron Nash scored on a quick pair of layups to cut the lead back to seven in the opening minute of the second half. That's as close North Dakota could get.
Utah used a 13-2 run - fueled by back-to-back baskets from Poeltl and capped by a 3-pointer from Wright - to take a 50-32 lead with 14:34 remaining. UND cut the lead to 56-43 on a layup from Estan Tyler with 10:24 left, but the Utes held their Big Sky opponent to 10 points over the game's final 10 minutes.
Utah led by as many as 39 points in the second half after Dakarai Tucker made back-to-back baskets to give his team a 90-51 lead with 1:07 remaining.
Utah: Junior forward Jordan Loveridge did not play as a precaution after experiencing knee discomfort. ... Utah has allowed just 49 points per game over its last four games. . Jakob Poeltl is now the team's second leading scorer (12.2 points per game) and top rebounder (9.6 per game).
North Dakota: Turnovers fueled a huge portion of North Dakota's first half offense. UND scored 13 points off nine Utah turnovers to account for exactly half of the team's total first half points. . UND has now played all six Division I teams from the state of Utah. It is 8-14 all-time versus Utah teams with wins over Utah Valley, Southern Utah, Utah State and BYU.
WELCOME BACK: Sophomore guard Dakarai Tucker returned to Utah's lineup after missing the team's first four games with a broken rib. Tucker, who was a starter last season, finished with six points and three rebounds in 12 minutes.
Utah hosts Alabama State on Saturday night.
North Dakota plays Texas-Pan American on Saturday night.