Utah overwhelms St. Katherine by 73

Dec 29 2013 - 12:38am

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SALT LAKE CITY -- The St. Katherine Firebirds felt dead tired before they even stepped on the court.

The NAIA team playing its debut season lost a late game on Friday to San Diego State by 83 points and then took a flight in the wee hours of the morning before facing the Utes on Saturday.

Meanwhile, the Utes were rested and ready, no matter the opponent. It didn't take long for Utah to impose its superiority as Jordan Loveridge scored 17 points and Dakarai Tucker added 14 to help the Utes overwhelm St. Katherine 124-51 to extend their home winning streak to 13 games.

Ahmad Fields tallied 13 points, Parker Van Dyke had 11 and Dallin Bachynski 10 as the Utes shot 67 percent from the field. Delon Wright posted 15 rebounds and six assists against the Firebirds, who fell to 2-13.

"We played a game just a few hours ago in San Diego and then hopped on a plane at 3:30 a.m. It took us a while to wake up," said St. Katherine coach Scott Mitchell.

Alex Perez scored 13 points for St. Katherine.

Utah led 19-0 before Perez finally broke the drought with a 3-pointer from the top of the key with 10:38 left in the first half that brought sympathetic cheers from the crowd.

"We wanted to tune up some offensive things, play solid defense. We did that from the start," Wright said.

Until that point, the Firebirds had missed their first 12 shots and been outrebounded 19-2.

"We prepared the same as we do for every team. But against a team like this, we didn't try to push it every time we could have. We didn't try to run it up, just execute," Loveridge said.

The Utes improved to 11-1, the team's best start since 1997-98, the year they advanced to the National Championship game. The difference in scheduling is glaring as Utah has played only one road game and slated a bevy of easy wins.

Perhaps the biggest news from this blowout was the entrance of Marko Kovacevic, Utah's 6-foot-11 post player who just recently began practicing after a broken wrist. The Ute coaching staff had been considering redshirting the junior transfer from Western Nebraska Community College but he entered the game in the first half and played eight minutes. He finished with eight points and six rebounds.

"He had the desire to play and the fact that we are going to need him helped make our decision," Krystowiak said. "He brings a level of toughness to our team and skill. I thought it was the best thing for our team and he thought it was the best for him to get out there."

Ironically, this was only Utah's second-largest margin of victory this season. The Utes beat Evergreen State in the opener, 128-44 -- the widest margin of any college game this year.

The Firebirds lost Friday night at No. 20 San Diego State, 118-35.

But St. Katherine players are accustomed to inconveniences. The team usually practices late at night at a Boys and Girls Club after the local men's leagues finishes. The Firebirds play home games at Ramona High School, 40 minutes away from their campus in a San Diego office building. The school enrollment is listed as 102.

With their inside players the same height as some of Utah's guards, the Firebirds largely steered clear of post-ups or drives to the hoop. Instead, they passed it around the perimeter and attempted short penetration-and-kicks to waiting 3-point shooters.

Only problem was the St. Katherine shots were often far from true and they even had several long-range heaves blocked by Utah's athletic wing players. The Firebirds attempted 39 3-pointers, making nine - a much better performance than the 3-of-38 mark against the Aztecs the night before.

The Firebirds finally scored their first basket in the paint more than five minutes into the second half when Joshua White, who had 12 points, lofted in a layup.

"I like that my guys never give up and they don't run and hide," Mitchell said. "We find joy in everything we do -- even losing -- because we had an opportunity few people ever get."

The Utes dominated points in the key, 80-14. They also enjoyed several layups and dunks with their fresh legs after a Christmas break.

"I almost had to measure the rims because there have been guys dunking that I haven't seen dunk for a long time. Some of that comes from having multiple days off and getting their batteries charged," Krystkowiak said.

Utah played 15 players and all but one walk-on scored in the game. Next up is a far tougher test for the Utes -- a matchup with No. 10 Oregon on Thursday.

"I'm really excited to finally get into Pac-12. It will be a good game for us to really test where we are, and hopefully make some noise," Wright said.

 

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