Saturday night marked another step in the maturation of Jordan Loveridge.
Last season, the forward was a part of Utah's supporting cast. Now, the sophomore is a main character. Last year, Loveridge was a nice piece. This time around, he's arguably the biggest piece.
His 25 points in a 71-57 win over Savannah State were a career-high. He led Utah with nine rebounds, as 7,568 looked on at the Huntsman Center. He did his best to usher in the fifth straight win without a loss for the Utes, their best beginning to a season since 1998.
More importantly, Loveridge did it all when it mattered the most. The West Jordan native scored 16 of those points in the second half. When the rest of his team struggled offensively, he either created for himself, or he got to the free-throw line and scored points that way.
"I just think it was a matter of my teammates looking for me tonight," Loveridge said. "They kept telling me that Savannah State's guys couldn't guard me. So I was just trying to be aggressive out there, go to the basket and make shots."
Loveridge may have forged an identity for the Utes with his performance. Saturday night at the Global Sports Hoops Showcase marked the most difficult matchup for Utah of the three-day event. The defense was a step slow. The offense was as painful as a trip to the dentist on almost every possession.
But Loveridge was the best player on the floor and he bailed the Utes out down the stretch. In future games especially in when Pac-12 play begins there will be nights when traditional offensive sets simply don't work and someone will have to be counted on to create points.
Last season, Utah didn't have that one player capable of taking over. This season, Loveridge appears ready for that challenge.
"Playing our third game in three nights, I think that tired legs were somewhat of a factor," Utes coach Larry Krystkowiak said. "But the other team's been sleeping in a hotel for three nights, so it all kind of evens out. They played hard. They were athletic and they certainly gave us a run. I would like to think that we would've shot the ball better if we had fresher legs."
Utah shot 40 percent from the field, hitting just 2 of 11 from 3-point range in the process. The Utes did balance that by hitting 25 of 27 from the free-throw line, their best collective performance of the year. For the second consecutive night, Princeton Onwas came off the bench to make a big impact, scoring 14 points in 25 minutes. Delon Wright wasn't at his best, but still had 12 points and five rebounds.
Despite the struggles, it was all enough for Utah to pull away at the end. And despite the struggles, the Utes still had enough to keep the Tigers at a distance, playing most of the second half with an 8- to 10-point advantage.
R Utah wins its fifth straight game and gets off to its best start since 1998.
• Jordan Loveridge scores a career-high 25 points and grabs nine rebounds.
• Utah makes 25 of 27 tries from the free-throw line.