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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - It was only one game, against a Division III opponent, but Utah showed signs that this year will not be a repeat of last year, when the Utes had the worst season in school history.
Three freshmen helped make sure of that, with Jordan Loveridge scoring 18 points and fellow freshmen Justin Seymour and Dakarai Tucker adding 16 and 15, respectively, as the Utes cruised past Willamette 104-47 on Friday in their season opener.
"They struggled last year, even in those early games," said Loveridge, who played prep ball at nearby West Jordan High and took in a few Utes games last season. "We wanted to get off to a good start and show the fans they can have confidence in this team and the direction we're headed."
The Utes dominated Friday, as they should against a Division III foe. But a year ago they lost their exhibition game to a Division II opponent, then barely beat San Diego Christian College in their opener en route to a 6-25 record.
Second-year coach Larry Krystkowiak revamped his roster, hoping all the changes - 11 new faces in all - would yield different results.
His freshmen didn't disappoint as the Utes scored 100 points for the first time since 1995.
Seymour, who started at shooting guard because of injuries to Aaron Dotson and Jarred DuBois, opened the game with a 3-pointer and Loveridge started 3 of 3. Tucker also showed his outside range, hitting his first two 3-pointers for the Utes and shooting 6 of 8 overall.
"I came out with confidence," Tucker said.
Six Utah players scored in double figures. The Bearcats, though, came out cold, starting 1 of 6 and finishing 15 of 68 (22.1 percent). Elliot Babcock-Krenk led Willamette with seven points, and Sean Dart and Oliver Hughes had six apiece.
The Utes hit their first three shots and were off and running, leading by 20 with nearly 8 minutes left in the first half and by 30, 52-22, going into the break. It only got worse from there for the Bearcats, who were outmatched against the bigger Utes.
Utah held a 55-29 advantage on the boards and 48-14 edge on points in the paint.
Loveridge and Dallin Bachynski, who transferred from Southern Utah, grabbed 10 rebounds apiece.
"No matter what, you've got to give (Utah) credit. The Utes are huge," said Willamette coach Kip Ioane said. "There is size in the Pac-12. They are one of the bigger teams in the Pac-12. That bothered us. A lot of our shots, if you take a look at a lot of our guys, they typically are 50 percent shooters. It's just that extra length.
"At the same time, the crowd, the size of the arena, we got a little ahead of ourselves and didn't execute the way we are capable of. I'm not saying we should have won - they obviously are much better - but we could have put up a better battle in that regard."
The Utes shot 63 percent from the floor and made 8 of their 18 3-point attempts.
Last year Utah shot just 31 percent from 3-point range and 40 percent overall.
The Utes can only hope history doesn't repeat. A year ago, they won their opener only to lose eight straight. Utah also lost 11 of 12 to close the season and finish 3-15 in their first season in the Pac-12. They also were just 6-9 at the Huntsman Center to snap a run of 38 consecutive seasons with a winning record at home.
On a snowy night, they didn't disappoint the home crowd, especially the freshmen.
"When you watch them on the court, they don't always seem like freshmen," Krystkowiak said. "They're guys who can make plays."
He said he still saw them thinking too much but was hopeful that would change with more games.
"I think it speaks to the future of our program. ... Hopefully these guys can carry the torch for us," Krystkowiak said.
The Utes were picked to finish last again in the Pac-12, but Krystkowiak made wholesale changes to his roster. Eight players either left or were shown the door, leaving room for Krystkowiak to bring in seven freshmen or transfers, with 11 new faces in all.
His two returning starters, seniors Jason Washburn and Cedric Martin, showed Friday they don't want to go out losers. Martin set the tone defensively for the Utes, standing firm to take several charges early,
Washburn, who led the Utes in scoring and rebounding last season, took a seat on the bench after committing a couple of quick turnovers. But he came back strong, scoring on a nice baseline move to bump Utah's lead to 38-14 before blocking a Babcock-Krenk shot at the other end.
Washburn had another block on Avery Manu early in the second half and forced a turnover. He finished with 12 points on 6-of-7 shooting, 10 rebounds and three blocks.
The biggest negative Krystkowiak saw were 19 turnovers, including 12 in the second half. By then it was game over.
The Bearcats, 5-20 overall last year and 3-13 in the Northwest Conference, shot just 27 percent in the first half and were outrebounded 24-11.
While the Utes clearly have more size, depth and ability than they did last season, how much they truly have improved may not be known until next month, when they face Boise State and BYU. They have 11 more nonconference games before Pac-12 play starts.
"I think for Utah, they'll take a look at it as, 'We're doing what we're supposed to do, now let's take on the big boys.' It's hard for them in this setting," Ioane said. "If they only beat us by 20, then they're not doing the right thing. If they beat us by 50, they're supposed to. So I'm sure they'll take the win, do what they did, and will move on.
"For us, we take a look at the little things. In these types of games, you don't get exposed by big plays; you're exposed by little things. ... It will be humble-pie Monday."
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