SALT LAKE CITY — Sedrick Barefield knows this could be his time to shine.
“The coaches are allowing me to be aggressive and trusting me a little bit more,” said Barefield, who scored 22 points to lead Utah over Prairie View A&M 83-62 in the season opener Friday night.
With the bulk of Utah’s scorers moving on after last season, Barefield has become the focal point of the Ute offense.
“Sed had a great game. I’m not all about numbers … but I was thinking more big picture,” Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak said of letting Barefield be a creator. “This was the type of game that was less about execution and more about players just making plays.”
The Panthers were within three points late in the first half, but the Utes scored 24 points in a row to build a comfortable cushion.
“The bottom fell out. We went into a drought. They turned their defense up a little bit and we started settling for poor shots,” PVA&M coach Byron Smith said.
Barefield went 8-for-12 and scored on drives to the hoop, pullups off the dribble and from beyond the arc. David Collette, the Utes’ top returning scorer, made all five of his attempts on dunks or layups and went to the line 10 times in 21 minutes.
Tyler Rawson added 16 points and nine rebounds for Utah, which shot 52 percent and beat Prairie View A&M for the second straight season.
Panthers Junior Dennis Jones didn’t start but made his impact immediately felt by scoring all 16 points in the first half. Gary Blackston also had 16 points and Shaquille Preston had 11 for Prairie View A&M.
Utah’s length helped hold the Panthers to 39 percent shooting and the Utes outrebounded PVA&M, 41-32.
After falling behind by 11 points early, the Panthers bothered the Utes with their quickness and tenacity to claw back within 34-31.
“In these early games, we hope to learn each time out — how to deal with the pressure and that exposure will pay off in Pac-12 play and we’ll know how to handle it,” Rawson said.
Barefield, who had 16 in the first half, scored on an acrobatic layup and a 3-pointer to put Utah up 39-31 at the intermission.
Utah played without projected starting center Jayce Johnson, who has a sprained ankle.
Prairie View: This is just the first of 13 away games to start the season and the Panthers will have to find ways to score with their perimeter-oriented team that isn’t stocked with knockdown shooters. The offense sparkled when the Panthers forced turnovers and got out on the break but bogged down in the half-court when many forays to the basket came away empty.
Utah: After losing four of their top six scorers from last season, including rookie sensation Kyle Kuzma of the Los Angeles Lakers, the Utes are a bit of an unknown quantity with a mix transfers and prior bit players. Barefield played nearly the entire game despite the lopsided score and looks to be Utah’s primary outside threat while Collette scored a number of ways in the post.
The Utes broke open a tight game with a 24-0 run bridging the first and second half. Some of the baskets were 3-pointers after quick drives and passes to the perimeter and others were layups after defensive breakdowns. On the other end, the Utes kept the Panthers from scoring for more than eight minutes.
Both teams were sloppy with the ball, committing a combined 37 turnovers. In addition to their 18 giveaways, the Panthers made only 14 of their 27 free throw attempts. Utah had 19 miscues. “They sped us up,” Krystkowiak said.
“You have to play hard on offense. People think that if you’re playing hard, it’s always on the defensive end. Sometimes you need to outwork the defensive unit that’s on the court, which means meeting passes and being dialed in together,” Krystkowiak said.
Prairie View travels to Portland to face another Pac-12 foe — the Oregon Ducks.
Utah hosts Mississippi Valley State on Monday evening.