SALT LAKE CITY — It took five opportunities for the Utah Utes to get it done.
However, it finally happened Friday night in the Huntsman Center. A 76-62 victory over Northern Arizona, coupled with a lopsided decision over Florida A&M earlier in the week, gave the Utes back-to-back wins for the first time this season.
“Man, it feels good,” said Utah guard Sedrick Barefield. “You get some momentum under us and we see what we’re capable of when we play the way we know how to play and we play together.”
The Utes enter the Christmas break with a 6-5 record. It comes at the end of a challenging scheduling stretch that began with three games in three weeks and ended with three outings in six days.
“It was good to take care of business here at home,” said Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak, who was especially pleased with his team’s 18-7 assist-to-turnover ratio. “I think offensively we’re starting to figure some things out.”
Things didn’t develop all that quickly for the Utes. They struggled early against a Northern Arizona team that had lost six straight games and had not experienced the thrill of victory since prevailing at Omaha on Nov. 14.
There were five lead changes and five ties in the first half. Northern Arizona held a 19-18 advantage with just over eight minutes to go until the break. That’s when Utah went on a decisive 7-0 run to pull ahead for good.
The Utes led 38-30 at halftime and went on to pull in front by as many as 21 points in the second half.
“We just weren’t rebounding. They were getting second-chance opportunities and that was the biggest thing,” Barefield said. “We were getting the stops we wanted, we just weren’t coming up the ball. So we emphasized that a little more down the stretch.”
Barefield finished with a team-high 15 points. Riley Battin and Timmy Allen finished with 13 and 12 points, respectively, for the Utes.
“I feel like our team, as a whole, is finding its identity,” Battin said. “These two wins, like we’ve said, build a lot for the momentum going forward.”
Utah’s previous bids to prevail twice in a row were derailed somewhat decisively. The first two were nine-point setbacks to Minnesota and Hawaii that followed wins over Maine and Mississippi Valley State, respectively. The back-and-forth sequence also followed triumphs against Grand Canyon and Tulsa. The first was a 22-point loss to Northwestern, while the latter came in the form of a 15-point shortcoming against BYU in the Beehive Classic.8 comments on this story
The chance for three straight wins won’t be easy. The Utes return to action on Dec. 29 at home against sixth-ranked Nevada (11 a.m., P12N). The Wolfpack are 11-0 entering a Saturday home game against Akron (7-4).
“I think that we’ve fixed a lot of things, granted we haven’t played a team like Nevada the last two games,” Barefield said. “But I definitely feel like we’ve fixed the things we need to fix that will give us a chance against any good team and if we play like that we’ll have a chance.”
EXTRA STUFF: Utah finished with a 16-2 advantage in points off of turnovers . . . The announced attendance was 11,239 . . . Brooks DeBisschop of NAU (2-8) led all scorers with 16 points.