One of the biggest struggles for a college basketball team is having the ability to remain focused over the length of an entire season. Having the where-with-all to step up for the big games on the schedule and at the same time not relaxing for the easier opponents that they face.
Saturday night’s game proved to be a microcosm of an entire season. Utah showed the desire early to jump on the Beavers and build up a good lead, only to back off and watch Oregon State claw back. In the second half the Utes would jump to an incredible lead, only to relax, let of the gas and watch the bench and walk on players almost give up a 28 point lead. In the end the Utes would stave off the comeback and defeat the Oregon State Beavers 86-78 to improve to 15-6 (6-3) on the season.
High Octane Offense
Utah started the game off exactly how you would expect them to against a winless Pac-12 team. After a game against Oregon where David Collette was regulated to the bench for the majority of the game, Utah called the big man’s number early and often. Collette scored each of Utah’s first six points, all of which came right at the rim. Collette showed his versatility with his back to the basket using an array of post moves as well as catching the ball in transition and smoothly finishing in traffic.
Ten of Utah’s first 12 points came from the paint and then things began to open up. The Utes would then stretch the court and make 3-5 three pointers to get things rolling. In an impressive fashion, the Utes would hit 75% of their shots over the first 12 minutes of the game (12-16) and jump to a 30-15 lead.
Just when it appeared Utah was going to blow the game out of the water, the flow of the game came to a screeching halt. Utah would go five minutes and eleven seconds without a field goal. The Utes got sloppy with their passing, off ball motion was less crisp, ball handling was more lackadaisical. As a result Utah found itself in poor positions and missed six consecutive attempts from the floor as well as turning the ball over two times. The Beavers went on a 9-2 run and cut the lead in half, 32-24. A last second three pointer by Lorenzo Bonam gave Utah a little bit of breathing room at the half as the Utes led 42-30.
The Utes took advantage of the halftime break and were able to refocus on how to play as a team. Looking much more in control, and moving with a distinct purpose, Utah made five of their first six shots, and quickly distinguished themselves as the better team. Utah would go on to hit 66.7% of their second half shots by shooting 14-21 over the first 12 minutes. Over that stretch of time, Utah took care of the ball and passed with a purpose. Utah used a 8:1 turnover to assist ratio to propel them to a commanding 28 point lead, 75-47, with 8:05 remaining. At that moment, Larry Krystkowiak saw it fit to empty the Utah bench.
The Costly Mistake
“If I had to do it over again, I would have probably waited until we got inside that last media timeout but live and learn,” were the words of Krystkowiak after the game when looking back on how poorly his bench performed. One would think that any group of bench players would be able to nurse a 28 point lead in the final minutes of a game against the worst team in the conference. But that wasn’t the case for Utah. The next six minutes would be disastrous as Utah would turn the ball over four times and only shoot 1-6 from the floor. Meanwhile the Beavers would make 10 of their next 13 shots and defy all odds with a late 23-3 run. Oregon State found themselves in an opportunity to surprise the Utes as they cut the lead to 78-70 with two minutes left on the clock.
Krystkowiak was forced to bring his starters back into the game, cold of the bench to eventually put a halt to the Beavers comeback. Although they walked away with the win Krystkowiak was very open about his poor decision to end the game. He shared, “Obviously if I had a do-over again, I would have done it in a little different fashion. I had a sense that the game was under control and it turned into a perfect storm.”
No Answer for the Beavers’ Backcourt
The Utes’ focus going into the game was to play up on Oregon State’s perimeter players. Knowing that was the only place the Beavers could do some damage, Utah planned on stopping that attack. However, Utah had no answer for Stephen Thompson Jr and JaQuori McLaughlin. Thompson and McLaughlin combined for 52 points on the evening. Sixty-seven percent of the Beavers scoring came from those two players.
Devon Daniels was the only Ute who showed the capability to defend the perimeter. After McLaughlin led all scorers at halftime with 17 points, Daniels was given the assignment of stopping him. And stop him he did. For the first 10 minutes, Daniels was right up in his face and prevented McLaughlin from scoring a single point. On the very first play after Daniels was awarded a breather, McLaughlin drained a three pointer in the face of Parker Van Dyke.
The Utes will now head off to Berkeley, California to face the California Bears. The Utes are in a dead heat with Cal for the fourth place standing in the conference. As it currently stands, Utah is half a game ahead of Cal, but the Bears have the opportunity to even things out as they take on Stanford Sunday night. Utah and Cal will square off Thursday night at 7:00 PM MT and the game can be found on the Pac-12 Network.