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San Diego, Calif. • A young team is going to have growing pains, Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak said outside the locker room at Viejas Arena.
The Utes did indeed struggle in a 53-49 loss to the No. 16 team in the nation, but it was the veterans who didn't appear ready for the team's first date on the big stage.
Delon Wright, Jordan Loveridge and Brandon Taylor, Utah's top three returning scorers from last season, were quiet offensively on Tuesday afternoon, facing down San Diego State on its intimidating home court on ESPN.
The effort can be termed many things, some of which Krystkowiak used afterward a close one, a learning experience, a hard-fought battle but it is still a loss, No. 25-ranked Utah's first of the season.
Defense and rebounding allowed the Utes to remain in it. Utah's offense briefly emerged toward the end, helping whittle a 10-point gap to merely two in the final 10 seconds. But ultimately the team couldn't recover from its offensive issues, which included a 10:34 stretch without a field goal.
"I'm really pleased with our defense," Krystkowiak said. "But we've got a long way to go offensively."
San Diego State made a 9-0 run midway through the second half, a veritable scoring blitz in what was an ugly game. The Utes fought to the finish, but Dwayne Polee hit a pair of free throws that sealed the game with 9.5 seconds left, and Wright's final 3-pointer bounced harmlessly away an appropriate, if disappointing, cap on the day.
Utah's big three finished 7-for-30 from the field, combining for just 21 points. Taylor had a team-leading nine points and Wright had seven, but both were stymied for most of the contest. Wright didn't score until the final 1:23 of the game.
To add to the pain, former Ute J.J. O'Brien led the game with 12 points and 11 rebounds.
The problem was pressure. The Aztecs swarmed inside on Utah freshman center Jakob Poeltl, who had 12 rebounds but only 4 points. That forced the Utes to the perimeter, where they couldn't seem to knock down even open shots.
Utah only shot 32 percent from the floor, and it was a little too generous with turnovers: Their 18 giveaways turned into 16 San Diego State points.
"Whenever they score, they get into their little jump-press, and that kind of disrupts you a little bit from just coming in and clicking your heels on offense," Krystkowiak said. "That affected us, and we tried to simulate that in practice setting, but you can't with the crowd, and that had a little impact on us as well."
There were plenty of positives for a team that considers itself still under construction.
For one, Utah outrebounded a team that prides itself on the glass. Chris Reyes had nine rebounds with his eight points, and Wright had 8 rebounds.
San Diego State's attack was also held in check: The Aztecs shot less than 33 percent and had just 16 field goals.
The newcomers to Utah's team also made a strong impression: Isaiah Wright offered composed minutes when Taylor was in foul trouble, and hit a 3-pointer in the first half to end Utah's longest drought. Brekkott Chapman scored eight points and had a three rebounds.
"The veterans didn't play as well as we should have," said Wright, who still had three steals and two blocks on the defensive end. "But our younger guys stepped up and played well."
It stung, however, that Utah couldn't build on an 18-17 halftime lead. Krystkowiak acknowledged he was disappointed to see his team come out flat and cede a 14-6 run off the bat.
The first half was even uglier than the second: Both teams shot under 30 percent in the opening period, with Reyes leading Utah's gritty effort with five points and only one field goal.
San Diego State 53, Utah 49
• Utah shoots only 32 percent from the floor, has 18 turnovers.
• Delon Wright has 7 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists and 3 steals.
• Brandon Taylor leads with 9 points, but on 3 of 10 shooting.