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Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
FILE -- SMU Head Coach Larry Brown says a few words to Utah's Jordan Loveridge after the game as Utah defeats SMU Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2012, in the Huntsman Center 62-53.
I think I made a good transition from high school to starting early in my college career. (I’m) just trying to go out and play with the guys that are in this conference, and I think I did a good job. —Utah freshman Jordan Loveridge

LAS VEGAS — Utah’s reigning Mr. Basketball is making quite a name for himself at the next level. Less than a year after winning the state’s top high school accolade, Jordan Loveridge is putting the finishing touches on one of the most successful freshman seasons in University of Utah history.

As the Utes prepare to face USC in the Pac-12 Tournament Wednesday, the former West Jordan star ranks among the conference leaders in scoring (11.9), rebounding (6.9), free throw percentage (75.6 percent), 3-point field goal percentage (38.9 percent) and steals (1.2).

“I think I made a good transition from high school to starting early in my college career,” Loveridge said. “(I’m) just trying to go out and play with the guys that are in this conference, and I think I did a good job.”

Loveridge is Utah’s leading rebounder and second-highest scorer.

Historically, his point production is topped only by Keith Van Horn (18.3), Luther “Ticky” Burden (13.8), Andrew Bogut (12.5) and Danny Vranes (12.2) for freshmen in team history.

The 6-foot-6 power forward’s rebounding average trails just Mike Sojourner (12.3), Bogut (9.9), Van Horn (8.3), Mitch Smith (7.6), Vranes (7.2) and Josh Grant (7.2).

Loveridge insists the numbers don’t really matter.

“I just want to win games,” he said.

Although life in the Pac-12 has proven difficult, Loveridge vows that he and the Utes will keep getting better. They know exactly what they’re facing.

“You have a new challenge every night. You can’t coast through games and stuff,” Loveridge said. “Every guy that you play against is going to be good and they’re going to come at you every night. That’s the biggest transition. They’re going to be bigger, faster, stronger and they’re going to keep coming every night.”

As such, consistency is also sought. Loveridge seeks it, as does the coaching staff.

“Jordan’s had a really good year. He’s a talented player. He’s a typical freshman, though. He’s had some great games and he’s had some awful games,” said Utah assistant coach Tommy Connor. “He has a lot to learn, he has a lot to improve upon and he needs to work hard in this offseason to really take a jump in his game to be an even better player next year. But we’re thrilled to death we have him. He’s been very, very good for us.”

With a few exceptions, Connor considers Loveridge is as good as any freshman in the Pac-12.

“We believe with his improvement he will continue to get better and help our team get better,” Connor said.

Loveridge is part of a group of contributing freshmen that includes starting point guard Brandon Taylor, as well as reserves Jeremy Olsen, Justin Seymour and Dakarai Tucker.

Senior Cedric Martin predicts they’ll take the Utes to greater heights.

“I’m pretty confident that this program is going to be better next year than this year,” he said.

Fellow senior Jason Washburn also sees a bright future.

“They’re all capable players,” he said. “If we need to put them out there they can be out there and we trust them to do it.”

Loveridge, he added, may be the head of the snake. He’s started in 28 games and is averaging 31 minutes per outing.

“He’s come in and made an instant impact for our team and has been an instant force,” said Washburn, who predicts Loveridge will continue to get better under head coach Larry Krystkowiak and his staff. “So, the sky’s the limit for him.”

Loveridge is living up to the high expectations that accompanied his decision to play for Utah.

“That was a huge coop for us in our very first recruiting class,” Connor said.

Signing with the Utes is something Loveridge doesn’t regret. He’s where he wants to be. Loveridge is encouraged by the team’s improvement and feels like everyone can see that the program “is on the right path.”

The goal, he explained, is for the Utes to win as many games as they can; try to compete at a high level; move toward the top of the Pac-12; and make their way into the NCAA tournament.

Krystkowiak credits Loveridge for taking the coaching he’s receiving to heart. The freshman has improved his game in several areas, including defense, aggressiveness on offense and passing.

The latter, he continued, has had a lot to do with Utah’s improved shooting as of late.

Rebounding success has also been on the rise. After getting outboarded in nine straight games, the Utes topped Oregon State and Oregon last week. Loveridge pulled down 19 over the two games.

“I’ve challenged him to try to get a rebound every four minutes,” Krystkowiak said.

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The challenge was eagerly accepted.

“It just helps your team’s chances to win games. If you go get rebounds on both ends of the floor it will just help your team as much as you can,” Loveridge said. “You can’t control if you’re going to miss shots. But you can control if you’re going to play hard enough to go get rebounds and chase loose balls and stuff.”

Pac-12 tourney

Utah (13-17 4-13) vs. USC (14-17 9-9)

Wednesday, 7 p.m.

MGM Grand Garden Arena

Las Vegas

TV: Pac-12 Networks

Radio: ESPN 700 AM

Email: dirk@desnews.com; Twitter: @DirkFacer