The Runnin’ Utes had a great opportunity on Thursday night to help secure their space in the NCAA tournament with a win over a top 10 Oregon team. Utah began the game beating the Ducks at their own game by pushing the ball up the court and scoring at the rim. Just as Utah proved it can compete with anyone at home, foul trouble and turnovers made an appearance and hindered them from continuing with their game plan.
In the end Utah would fall short of a comeback, losing 73-67, falling to 14-6 on the season. The Utes now share the fourth place spot in the conference with Cal, both teams stand at 5-3. Although Utah’s postseason hopes aren’t dead with the loss, the Utes now have very little wiggle room over the next five weeks.
Utah Came to Play
The Utes welcomed David Collette back after missing the last two games due to concussion protocol. It didn’t take long for it to be evident that the Utes are a much better team with him on the court. On Utah’s first possession, which came from a Devon Daniels’ steal, Daniels lost the handle on the ball on his way to the hoop and Collette cleaned the ball up off the floor and gave Utah its first points of the game.
The next points came at the hands of Collette. Collette caught the ball on the baseline, eight feet out, drew out the defense and then dumped the ball on the opposite post to Kyle Kuzma for the uncontested bucket. The Utes then picked up their defensive intensity and when on the attack. Lorenzo Bonam scored two quick fast break layups, his second coming after stealing the ball from Payton Pritchard. Then Daniels followed with on of his signature, body control, contested layups off the glass.
With the energy in the building reaching a boiling point, Jojo Zamora grabbed a defensive rebound and turned quickly up court. Zamora delivered a perfect pass, rewarding the big man for running the floor, and Collette scored at the rim in transition, bringing the Huntsman Center crowd to its feet as the Utes took an early 12-6 lead.
Once Oregon calmed down they were able to use their length and athleticism and settle down into their stingy half court defense. Once, Utah was unable to get off in transition, the flow of the offense disappeared. Time and time again the Utes ended possessions by shooting a low percentage shot at the end of the shot clock. With the Ducks quickness they were able to flash early double screens, drop in passing lanes and recover before Utah could make a move at the rim.
Instead Utah elected to pass the ball around the perimeter until there were six seconds left on the shot clock. The ball moved its way around the arc, while the post players stood motionless off the low blocks, and no passing windows were created. Utah therefore, settled for horrible shots. Frustrated, Utah began to increase the length to their passes hoping to get the Ducks moving quicker, but that only gave Oregon more opportunities to create turnovers.
After only committing two turnovers in the first 13 minutes of play, Utah turned the ball over five times down the stretch. The course started to change directions with Collette picking up his second foul and heading to the bench. The advantageous Ducks milked an 8-2 run over the final minutes to claim a 33-31 halftime lead.
Where it Went Wrong
With Collette picking up his third foul in the opening minutes it appeared like the wheels were about to fall off for Utah. Then a sequence happened that made Ute fans think that the tide had turned. After a solid first half, Parker Van Dyke confidently pulled up for a three pointer that gave Utah a 41-39 lead. On Oregon’s next possession, freshman Jayce Johnson violently met Chris Bouchard at the rim with a powerful block. The crowd went crazy as Sedrick Barefield came up with the ball and went on the attack. Just before he was about to make his open-court move, he lost the ball. That turnover prevented Utah from stealing momentum with a four point lead and instead opened the window for Oregon.
Over the next three minutes and 14 seconds the Ducks would take off on a 13-2 run. Over the stretch Utah shot 1-5 and turned the ball over two more times. Meanwhile Oregon shot 4-7 and as a result of them attacking the rim got to the free throw line for five additional opportunities.
In a matter of moments a possible four point lead turned into a nine point deficit.
Defensive Stops Give Utah a Chance
Trailing 64-53 at the last media timeout, Larry Krystkowiak told his team that the only way Utah would have a chance would be to get some defensive stops. He assured them that they were able to score in transition, but they needed to get those stops. Utah responded in a big way. From that moment Oregon would walk away empty handed on 10 of their next 13 possessions. The incredible defensive stand from Utah came by way of the Ducks missing five shots, committing two unforced turnovers, and with steals from Barefield, Lorenzo Bonam and Van Dyke.
Kyle Kuzma hit a clutch three pointer with 1:46 on the clock. The triple brought Utah to within four points, 70-66. On the next play Dillon Brooks missed a jumpshot, Kuzma grabbed the board, got the ball up to Collette who caught the ball underneath the hoop in high traffic. Collette attempted to gather himself and score among a flock of Ducks, but couldn’t get the ball in the hoop. With the blown opportunity to bring the game to within two points, the Utes were forced to play the fouling game in the final minute of play.
Utah will be forced to rebound quickly after the loss having their next game tip-off 36 hours later. Utah will now host the winless Oregon State Beavers (0-8). Oregon State lost Thursday to the Colorado Buffaloes 85-78. That loss gave the Buffaloes their first conference victory of the season. This should be the perfect game for Utah to reestablish its confidence and work on improving its offensive production.The game can be found on the Pac 12 Network and will tip at 5:00 PM MT this upcoming Saturday.