The effort was always there, the Ducks outrebounded the Utes 21-to-5 in the first half, but the offensive efficiency was far from sound early. That and the Utes' 12-21 first half shooting, gave the Ducks an eight-point deficit heading to the locker room.
In come-from-behind wins over Oregon State and Arizona State, it was head coach Dana Altman spurring the team on with rousing halftime speeches. Saturday it was more of the same, but it came from a different and surprising source, the unassuming Arsalan Kazemi, who Altman has pleaded with to be more assertive all season.
"Coach wants me to be one of the leaders of the team," Kazemi said. "I realized that was a time, we were down, and we just needed someone to stand up and talk. That's what I did."
"He was screaming like ‘This is our team…We've got to step up as leaders, '" freshman guard Damyean Dotson remembers.
"He's the nicest guy in the world, but basketball is a game of passion. The way we want to play, we want guys to be emotional, we want them to be fired up.
"At halftime he let his teammates know it was important to him," Altman said.
Perhaps it was the stirring emotion or rather the unlikely source, but the team responded in a big way in the second half, outscoring the Utes 51-34. Dotson, who says he'd never seen that side of Kazemi, did his part, putting in 14 of his 16 points, reaching double-figures for the first time in five games.
"It wasn't me just thinking that I needed to take over, it was me knowing I had to take over," he said. "Just me being who I am and what's my role on the team, I just had to step up in the second half."
Even with recent the scoring troubles, Dotson remains the team's leading scorer, in larger part due to grand outbursts early in the season. On Friday, some of the staff put together video of Dotson's early season success, in hopes of aiding in regaining his confidence.
"They showed me the video from the beginning of the season…and that inspired me this game," he said.
"Sometimes you've got to remind him what they've done and how well you can play," Altman said.
Kazemi did his part finishing with 11 points, 14 rebounds, four steals and three blocks.
Frustration may have played a part in the Ducks response. After a combined 21 fouls were called Thursday, the teams teamed up to commit 47 Saturday, including two technical fouls against Utah, one of which came at the expense of Kazemi.
Following a made jump shot by Dotson, Kazemi was thrown to the floor by the Utes' Cedric Martin.
"He grabbed me from my hip and… it was a wrestling move. We watch a lot of wrestling in Iran and that's what they do," Kazemi said.
"That's what they were doing from the beginning of the game."
E.J. Singler was the team's leading scorer, finishing with 21 points, 12 of which came from the foul line. Singler, who said Thursday that the leadership needed to come from the seniors, scored 19 of those points in the second half.
The win keeps the Ducks on pace with Arizona for second-place in the conference. But for the Ducks, it's just important to get momentum going in the right direction.
"It's been a long ten days and it really feels good to get a win," Altman said.