I was just trying to make the right plays, that's all. —Donnie Tillman
SALT LAKE CITY — Eight days wasn’t enough, as it turned out, to completely cool off the Utah Utes. They returned from a lengthy gap in the schedule to defeat Hawaii 80-60 in the Huntsman Center — despite shooting 44.6 percent from the field.
“You can kind of anticipate probably being a little bit sluggish. There’s not many teams can come off that type of layoff and really be as sharp as you like, and it’s not ideal,” said Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak. “But I think it’s kind of a curveball. I think it can help you grow. I know we got a lot accomplished in practice and now we’ll get into where we’re back into more tradition of two or three games a week.”
Saturday’s win upped Utah’s record to 6-1 on the season. David Collette and Donnie Tillman led a balanced attack with 16 points apiece. Gabe Bealer and Justin Bibbins contributed 14 and 13, respectively.
“I was just trying to make the right plays, that’s all,” said Tillman, who came off the bench to finish with career-high scoring. “I know that on our team anyone can get hot.”
It took awhile for both the Utes and Rainbow Warriors to get going. The score was deadlocked at 8-8 after the teams combined to make 7 of 26 shots to open the game.
Krystkowiak said there wasn’t stellar defense by either side early on, just a lot of struggles shooting the ball.
“Hawaii missed open shots,” Krystkowiak said. “We missed open shots.”
Utah began to pull away after a 3-point shot by Bibbins with 11:08 left in the half. It ushered in a 7-0 run that included four points from Tillman.
Hawaii missed eight straight shots during the decisive burst by the Utes, who eventually built a 15-point lead. The margin was reduced to 37-30 by halftime.
Bibbins had a team-high nine points for Utah at the break. The Utes discussed “strictly defense” during the intermission. Krystkowiak wasn’t pleased with a lot of things.
“We started the second half with some deflections and getting some stops, and then the transition offense was a lot better when we can get out and push it,” he said. “But it was an example of hanging our hat on playing some defense and getting our hands on some balls, and the offensive end opened up for us a little bit. So that was the key.”
Hawaii closed the gap to five points twice early in the second half before the Utes regained some breathing room and a lot more. They held a 23-point advantage with just over two minutes remaining.
“I thought they did a good job of making it tough for us to get into a rhythm,” said Hawaii forward Gibson Johnson, a Viewmont High graduate. “That’s a credit to them. They’re a really good team overall. They don’t have a whole lot of drop-off.”
Even so, Johnson noted that the Rainbow Warriors (4-2) didn’t really execute the way they wanted to
“We got some shots that we wanted to,” he said. “They weren’t falling.”
Hawaii shot 36.5 percent and missed 18 of its 22 attempts from 3-point range.
EXTRA STUFF: The Utes head to Indianapolis to face Butler (6-2) Tuesday (5 p.m., FS1) at famed Hinkle Fieldhouse. Utah Jazz rookie Donovan Mitchell was part of the announced crowd of 13,896. Jayce Johnson grabbed 11 rebounds in 13 minutes before fouling out. Redshirt freshman Chris Seeley is sidelined after having gallbladder surgery.