The University of Utah Runnin' Utes, led once again by resurging center Walter Watts, defeated California-Irvine 97-80 Saturday night in Irvine to claim their sixth win in seven games this season.
The 17-point win capped a week in which Utah had already defeated Utah State by eight points and Oregon by 14.Watts, coming off an 18-point, 9-rebound performance 48 hours earlier, took charge again against Irvine. He scored 21 points - which tied his career high - and hit 9 of 10 shots. He also had 5 rebounds.
The Utes received strong performances from three reserve players - Craig Rydalch, Phil Dixon and Paul Afeaki. Rydalch scored 17 points, tying his career high. Dixon had 13 points and Afeaki 11. Guard Byron Wilson had 12 points and Josh Grant 13, giving Utah six players in double scoring figures.
"It was a consumate team victory," said Utah coach Rick Majerus. "We executed our game plan well. What are we, 6-1 now? We're way ahead of what I thought we'd be."
The Utes are off to their best start since the 1980-81 season.
Ricky Butler and Gerald McDonald both scored 21 points for Irvine.
The Anteaters, 3-3, had been averaging 99 points per game, and had defeated Bradley and Texas Tech earlier this season. But they were no match for Utah.
Just as they did against Utah State and Oregon, the Utes won the game with a strong showing in the first half, and nearly everyone seemed to have a hand in it. The Utes fell behind 11-6 early in the game, but Afeaki, fresh off the bench, scored six quick points - two of them dunks - as the Utes went on an 8-0 run. The Anteaters tied the game at 14, before Utah went on another run, this time sparked by Wilson (10 first-half points) and Dixon, who made two three-point buckets and a layup, as the Utes opened a 32-19 lead. Then it was Watts' turn. He scored six points - including a dunk and a turnaround jumper in the lane - as the Utes opened a 19-point halftime lead, 52-33.
The Anteaters, who fell behind by 23 points at one point, could get no closer than 14 points in the second half.
"We did a good job of maintaining our lead and maintaining our composures," said Majerus.
The Utes, who shot 53 percent against Utah State and 55 percent against Oregon, shot 60 percent against Irvine. They also outrebounded Irvine 36-27 - after outrebounding USU 35-20 and Oregon 36-29.
The Utes, who have final exams next week, won't play again until next Saturday. They won't practice again until Thursday or Friday.