Scoring was not supposed to be a problem for Utah's basketball team, but the Utes had trouble generating enough offense Monday night in a 78-69 loss to Minnesota at Williams Arena in Minneapolis.
The Utes (1-1) trailed by 15 points at one stage of the second half, as their defense also failed them. Utah got within five points about six minutes to play, but the Golden Gophers (2-0) stayed in control.
Senior guard Sedrick Barefield overcame first-half foul trouble and cold shooting to make two baskets during the run that cut into Minnesota's lead. He finished with 14 points for Utah, matching Vante Hendrix's career-high production off the bench, and Novak Topalovic added 13 points.
Freshman guard Gabe Kalscheur led Minnesota with 19 points, making 5 of 6 shots from 3-point range. “We were in his face a couple of times, and he just made 'em,” Ute assistant coach Andy Hill said in a postgame interview on the Utes Radio Network.
Jordan Murphy, one of the Big Ten’s top returning players, contributed 11 points, 17 rebounds and five assists, despite some foul issues. The Gophers had five scorers in double figures.
The Utes staged their comeback by “sticking together and kind of keeping each other accountable,” Topalovic said.
Ute coach Larry Krystkowiak sought to upgrade this season's nonconference schedule by booking games such as Monday's trip to a Big Ten venue. The Utes' home schedule is less daunting, and it resumes Thursday as Mississippi Valley State comes to the Huntsman Center. The Delta Devils will play at Utah State on Tuesday.
The Utes shot 40 percent from the field, compared with Minnesota's 51.8 percent. The Gophers led 33-26 at halftime.
“We got a little rushed offensively at times, and they were real physical around the rim,” Hill said.
Krystkowiak had told his team that Minnesota's defensive presence would resemble the way the Big Ten's Penn State played against his team in the NIT championship game last spring. Of course, many of his players are new. In an exhibition win over College of Idaho and a season-opening victory over Maine, Utah had not faced the kind of resistance that Minnesota provided.
Even so, Hill said, “This was a great atmosphere for a young team, to experience what [Pac-12] play’s going to be like.”