It was a collective effort. We’ve got a team that’s a little bit beat up right now. Hopefully those guys you saw in gray sweats will be back after Christmas and be ready to go. —Larry Krystkowiak
SALT LAKE CITY — Before Wednesday night’s game against Northwestern State, coach Larry Krystkowiak said his team would have to find a way to get a win, seeing as four of his top eight scorers were out with injuries.
The Utes decided 3-point shooting was the way to do it, at least that’s how they took care of a tired Northwestern State team with an 84-62 victory at the Huntsman Center to improve to 8-3 in their final non-conference game before the start of Pac-12 play next week.
The Utes fired up the third-most 3-pointers in school history and also made the third-most, sinking 15 of 36 on their long-range shots on their way to an 84-62 victory over the Demons of the Southland Conference.
Thanks to the outstanding 3-point shooting, the Utes had little to worry about even if players such as Jakub Jokl, Jake Connor, Beau Rydalch and Christian Popoola were getting significant minutes for the first time all season for the short-handed Utes.
Tyler Rawson and Justin Bibbins each established career-highs, both scoring 25 points as Rawson hit 4 of 6 from long-range, while Bibbins sank 7 of 10, tying the school mark for second-most 3-point makes in a game.
“I tried to get in the offense and not force it too much, but of course we had to understand we have to got to get more shots up,” said Bibbins. “Definitely shots opened up for us and we’re happy they went in.’’
“I knew when we had guys down, there’s a lot of offense that we’re missing and I had to be a little more selfish and take shots that I normally don’t take,” said Rawson. “Fortunately they were going in today. We were both feeding off of each other.”
The Utes didn’t have Donnie Tillman, who missed the BYU game with a foot sprain, and Chris Seeley who has missed much of the month after gall-bladder surgery. But they were also missing leading scorer David Collette, who was out with an abdominal strain and Gabe Bealer, who has a hyper-extended knee. The latter two were both injured in practice on Monday.
“It was a collective effort,” said Krystkowiak. “We’ve got a team that’s a little bit beat up right now. Hopefully those guys you saw in gray sweats will be back after Christmas and be ready to go.”
The Utes came out with a lot of energy while racing to early leads of 14-1 and 26-7 as they sank seven 3-pointers in the first eight minutes of the game. From there, kept up a steady lead of 15 to 20 points for most of the game.
Jokl, Connor, Rydalch, Popoola and Marc Reininger each played season-high minutes and saw action well before mop-up time.
“A lot of guys jumped out there and played some minutes that they hadn’t been playing,” said Krystkowiak.
Although their opponent was wearing purple uniforms, it wasn't to be confused with Northwestern of the Big Ten. This Northwestern State team is from Louisiana with a 3-8 record, was coming off a 105-68 loss the night before to 17th-ranked Oklahoma and flew into Salt Lake late Wednesday morning.
After that slow start, the Demons made the Utes a little nervous in the second half when they closed within 13 points at 64-51 with 8:42 left, but Bibbins answered with a pair of 3-pointers to give the Utes some breathing room.
The Demons were led by Iziahiah Sweeney with 18 points and Ishmael Lane with 13.
For Utah, Sedrick Barefield was the only other player to score in double figures with 12 points, all in the first half, while sophomore center Jayce Johnson pulled down a career-high 15 rebounds while playing in place of Collette.
Utah's players and coaches will get a few days off for Christmas before starting back up on Dec. 26 to get ready for the opening of the Pac-12 season next week. The Utes will play at Oregon Dec. 29 and at Oregon State Dec. 31.