SALT LAKE CITY — Although it was officially unveiled at last week’s Utah-Cal women’s volleyball game, the Jon M. Huntsman Center saw its first official basketball action with the annual "Night With the Runnin’ Utes" scrimmage Tuesday evening.
Fans were able to get a peek at the renovated arena as well as an initial look at this year’s men’s basketball team, which was as impressive as a team can be when it's playing against each other.
With all five starters back from last year as well as a couple of top reserves and perhaps the best recruiting class in years, the Utes showed why they are considered to be one of the top teams in the Pac-12 this year.
Junior Jordan Loveridge showed off a new shooting stroke, sinking 8-of-11 from the field, including 4-of-5 from 3-point range and 7-of-7 from the free-throw line in scoring 27 points in the two mini-games.
“It was a lot of fun,’’ said Loveridge. “I changed my shot a little bit this offseason, and shooting a lot of shots in the gym helped me a lot.’’
Among the newcomers, Isaiah Wright, a 6-2 guard from Boise, and Jakob Poeltl, a 7-foot freshman from Austria, stood out.
Wright, who is expected to back up senior Delon Wright (no relation), scored 12 points, hitting 4-of-6 3-pointers, while Poeltl had 12 points and five rebounds in 25 minutes, more than Utah’s experienced centers Dallin Bachynski and Jeremy Olsen played.
“I just wanted to come out and help my team as best I could and stay focused on what I had to do,’’ said Isaiah Wright. “It was the first time playing a game with the guys, so it was really fun.’’
As for Delon Wright, the returning all-Pac-12 player who could be a candidate for preseason player of the year scored 10 points on 4-of-5 shooting in the first 16-minute scrimmage, but didn’t score in the second, although he had four assists and two rebounds.
“You’re never really happy with it — as much credit as you want to give the offense, that means the defense (isn’t as good),’’ said Ute coach Larry Krystkowiak. “We’re making progress — I like where we’re going and I like the camaraderie and that we have two guys at every position.’’
As for the arena, the look was different, with black curtains cordoning off the upper seats and new lighting from a metal complex above the floor rather than the “cloud” that had been above the floor since the arena opened in 1969.
Fans also saw a new floor with a block U in the middle with UTAH in red at each baseline. Inside the 3-point line, the floor is a darker shade of wood than the rest of the floor with black trim around the entire floor. A few more touches are expected to be added before the start of the season.
The Utes open the season on Nov. 6 with an exhibition game against Pacific University, a Division III school in Oregon, with the official opener set for Nov. 14 against Ball State.
“We’re ready to start beating up on other people instead of each other,’’ said Loveridge.