Kuzma, Utah beat Savannah State 99-53
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) Reeling from a big loss to Wichita State, Kyle Kuzma and many of his Utah teammates got haircuts to symbolize a new start.
Kuzma scored 18 points and the sleekly coiffed Utes used a 26-0 first-half run to beat Savannah State 99-53 on Wednesday night.
''It was time for changes,'' said Kuzma, who sported a new close-cropped style with a signature swirl. ''We just got back to basics. Everybody shared the ball and that was the biggest reason we had success.''
Brandon Taylor, who broke out of a slump with 13 points, said he hoped the haircuts and the team's emphasis on fundamentals signal a new direction.
''It's a fresh start,'' said Taylor, who reached 1,000 career points during the game. ''I wasn't thinking about making plays for myself, just making plays for my teammates. It's amazing what happens to your stats personally when you play the game like that.''
Lorenzo Bonam scored 14 points and Gabe Bealer added 11 to help the Utes (8-2) extend their non-conference home winning streak to 26 games, the fourth-longest string in program history.
Bonam made all six field goal attempts, including two 3, while tallying seven assists, four rebounds and three steals in 24 minutes.
''I have improved offensively as my shooting has gotten better but I have struggled with defense here until recently. But I'm getting the concepts down and understanding where I need to be now. I have better awareness. I think the coach is trusting me more now,'' Bonam said.
Lenjo Kilo led the Tigers (4-6) with a career-high 14 points, while Christopher Martin chipped in 13. Savannah State managed just 32 percent shooting.
The Utes hounded the smaller Tigers into 15 turnovers and dominated the rebound margin, 42-26.
The Tigers led in the early minutes and trailed by a 9-8 count before Utah scored 26 consecutive points.
Bonam, who had 12 points in the surge, sparked the run with a layup and capped it with a 3-pointer to put the Utes up 35-8 with 6:46 to play in the half.
''We got aggressive on both ends and when we share the ball like that, we're tough to stop,'' Bonam said.
The Utes regularly made the extra pass, resulting in a bevy of wide-open shots against a scrambling Tiger defense. Utah shot 61 percent and had 30 assists on the team's 37 field goals.
''The first thing we talked about on Monday was sharing the ball,'' Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak said. ''With this team, it's going to take five of us. It involves timing, a sense of urgency, spacing, poise, all of those things.''
Utah: Jakob Poeltl, the Utes' leading scorer (21.3) and rebounder (9.9) on the season, played only 20 minutes in advance of Saturday's showdown with Duke. The Austrian center had 10 points, seven rebounds and two blocks . Utah's 99 points marked the team's third-highest output this season.
Savannah State: The Tigers are winless away from home and have now lost six of seven games after starting the season on a three-game winning streak . Troyce Mannassa, who had scored 57 points in the last three games, missed his first eight shots and finished with four points.
Utah plays Duke in New York's Madison Square Garden on Saturday.
Savannah State visits Missouri on Jan. 2.
OUT OF THE DOGHOUSE
Taylor, the team's vocal leader, said he hasn't had the kind of senior year he wanted. His coach agreed. ''I've been a little rough on Brandon. It wasn't a fun video session,'' Krystkowiak said. ''Tonight, you see where guys made up though. After a little bit of a doghouse experience on Monday, it got his attention. He knows he's better than he's been. He even cleaned himself up and got a haircut.''
Duke, which ended the Utes' run in the Round of 16, 63-57, in last season's NCAA Tournament, will face Utah on Saturday. Kuzma doesn't think a heated rematch is on the mind of his teammates. ''They have a brand new crew of freshmen and we have a bunch of new guys that are stepping up, so I don't see it as much of a revenge game. It's two pretty different teams from last year facing off.''