SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah basketball team played its best game of the season Friday night in cruising to a 67-51 victory over Central Michigan at the Huntsman Center.
The Utes (3-1) shot well, were strong on the boards and had their lowest turnover total of the season. But what stood out the most to coach Larry Krystkowiak was the Utes’ defense, which was a big reason why the Chippewas (2-2) only shot 29.8 percent from the field and 25.8 percent from 3-point range.
“It all starts with our defense,’’ Krystkowiak said. “That team is pretty balanced — they’ve got a lot of good athletes — and I thought we did a pretty good job, particularly in the first half, of getting back in transition and keeping guys in front of us. That first half was as good as we’ve played.’’
It was early in the first half that the game was virtually decided as the Chippewas went scoreless for more than nine minutes and the Utes opened up a double-digit lead.
From the 15:24 mark to the 5:58 mark, the Chippewas missed 14 straight shots. An 8-8 game turned into a 20-8 Utah lead, which the Utes increased it to 37-24 by halftime. In the second half, the Utes kept a double-digit lead throughout and led by as many as 20.
Krystkowiak was thrilled with the play of his backcourt as Jarred DuBois and Glen Dean scored 20 and 13 points, respectively, as each shot 5 for 7 from the field. Both players have significant Division I experience as DuBois played three years for Loyola Marymount and Dean played two years at Eastern Washington.
“Their court presence and leadership really helped,’’ said Krystkowiak. “With the number of D-I games they’ve played, I thought they really played well together and kept everything intact for us.’’
Krystkowiak started DuBois Friday after keeping him out of the starting lineup Wednesday because he hasn’t been happy with his effort at times this year. But he said the senior is getting better each day and put it all together Friday.
“He’s still got to earn it with effort and the last few days he’s buying into that,’’ Krystkowiak said. “Offensively he had a good game, but defensively he was as good as he’s been.’’
The Utes got some good play off the bench from Jason Washburn, who had played a career-low seven minutes Wednesday night. He scored three baskets in a row late in the first half with an array of moves around the basket. First, he made a left-handed shot from the left block, then drove under the hoop for a reverse, before driving the baseline again for a dunk to help turn a nine-point lead into a 14-point edge.
Starting center Dallin Bachynski, who went off for 22 points and 16 rebounds in his first start Wednesday, came back to earth Friday, but had a solid effort with eight points and six rebounds.
Central Michigan was led by Derri Richardson with 10 points off the bench. Leading scorer Kyle Randall was held to just four points on 1-of-11 shooting.
The Utes play the third game of their Thanksgiving Tournament Saturday at 7:30 p.m. against Wright State.
UTE NOTES: The Utes shot 49 percent from the field and outrebounded Central Michigan 41-32. ... The Utes wore their all-black uniforms for Friday’s game. ... Krystkowiak said Aaron Dotson, who has been practicing with the Utes after sitting out for about a month with a foot injury, will be playing soon, but not Saturday night. ... Central Michigan coach Keno Davis coached in the Big East for Providence College from 2008-2011 where he had a 46-50 record. ... The Utes go on the road for the first time next week for games at SMU Wednesday night and Texas State Friday.
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