SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Blending in tons of newcomers isn't going to happen without Utah experiencing some growing pains.
That much was evident during the Utes' 75-61 victory over Maine on Thursday night. Utah showed moments of brilliance in its season opener. It also made plenty of mistakes characteristic of a young and inexperienced basketball team.
"Got to be better defensively. Got to stick to the game plan. Got to take better care of the ball," senior guard Sedrick Barefield said, checking off the areas where he feels like the Utes need to improve.
Utah seemed ready to cruise to an easy win after the Utes opened the game by connecting on their first seven field-goal attempts and started 9 of 10 from the field. That run of baskets included six 3-pointers.
Then Utah got a taste of the other end of that spectrum in the second half when it endured a scoring drought lasting more than nine minutes. The Utes weren't as successful in getting stops and Maine threw out a 1-1-3 zone that helped the Black Bears hang around.
"Typically, in an overall sense, if (we) get stops, we're a pretty good team," Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak said. "Not just because we didn't let the other team score, but because we have some guys that can get out and run and do some things in transition and the offensive end isn't such a grind."
Barefield scored 18 points and Donnie Tillman added 15 to lead Utah. The Utes (1-0) prevailed after shooting 49 percent from the field and finishing with a 42-26 advantage on the glass.
Isaiah White scored 24 points and Terion Moss added 13 to lead the Black Bears (0-2). Maine trailed wire-to-wire after shooting just 40 percent.
Hot shooting out of the gate resulted in a quick double-digit lead for the Utes.
After White turned a steal into a fastbreak dunk to cut Utah's lead to 14-8, Barefield responded with back-to-back 3-pointers to push the advantage back to double digits. Vante Hendrix followed with two more baskets on consecutive possessions a minute later. Hendrix's second basket — a 3-pointer he set up with a steal — put Utah up 25-10 with 12:16 left in the first half.
Maine cut the deficit to 10 twice before halftime.
Timmy Allen made a layup and fed Riley Batten to set up another to give Utah a 45-28 halftime lead.
The aforementioned nine-minute cold spell for Utah's offense prevented the Utes from building on the lead after halftime. It allowed Maine to pull within 60-51 on a 3-pointer from Moss with 6:09 left.
"I was extremely pleased with our toughness, in terms of how we continued to fight, even when we made some mistakes mentally, we moved onto the next play really well," Maine coach Richard Barron said.
Barefield finally ended the drought with a jumper. Utah then ran off four straight baskets, culminating in a Parker Van Dyke 3-pointer to take a 71-57 lead with 2:44 remaining.
After averaging 11.1 points a year ago, White may be on the cusp of playing a bigger part in Maine's offense this season. The redshirt junior scored a career-high 24 points while also matching a career-high with nine field goals. White is the leading scorer for the Black Bears through two games, averaging 16.5 points on 43 percent shooting.
Nine new players joined Utah during the offseason and six of them made their debut with the Utes on Thursday. The top performers among the newcomers were graduate transfer Novak Topalovic and true freshman Allen. Topalovic totaled nine points and nine rebounds. Allen had six points, six boards, and six assists.
Maine: The Black Bears should get a boost of confidence from hanging around with Utah in the second half. Their shooting was a bit too erratic in the first half to truly give them an upset chance, but they could put a scare into other opponents during their six-game road trip with improvement.
Utah: Inconsistency gripped a Utah team filled with newcomers. The Utes were solid on defense as usual, but endured long cold spells on offense. There could be some growing pains for Utah as the schedule gets tougher, but the Utes do have enough length, speed, and athleticism to be a dangerous team once they have enough experience.
Maine: The Black Bears continue a season-opening six-game road trip at San Francisco on Saturday.
Utah: The Utes will hit the road for the first time when they play at Minnesota on Monday.
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