For weeks now the trip to Matthew Knight Arena has been circled on Utah’s schedule as their last chance to get a quality, resume building win in the regular season. It would be a tall task defeating the Oregon Ducks in an atmosphere where they had won 40 straight contests and where the Utes have historically struggled. That task grew even more difficult upon hearing the news that Utah would be without their leading scorer and rebounder, Kyle Kuzma, who would be sidelined with an ankle injury.
It was evident from the first two minutes that they shorthanded Utes would not be able to match the highly talented Ducks on the road. Oregon lead Utah by over 20 points the majority of the game and would end up defeating Utah 79-61.
Utah moves to 17-9 (8-6) on the season with the loss and watch as their NCAA tournament hopes fall out of its reach.
Oregon Puts on the Pressure
Oregon pushed Utah defensively right out of the gate. Every time the Utes took the ball out from under the basket, which they did a lot with the offensive onslaught from the Ducks, Oregon came out in a 1-2-2 half court press. A long, quick, 6-foot-5 inch Tyler Dorsey was the point man on the pass for Oregon and he lined up just before the time line. With the high pressure Utah watched a lot of time tick off the clock while they battled the press with crosscourt passes. The Utes crossed the timeline with an average of 8-10 seconds removed from the 30 second game clock. That would be a huge problem for a Utah team that already struggles at getting into its offensive sets.
In the first eight minutes Utah already fell into a 18-10 deficit. Main cause… the five turnovers and horrendous 5-12 shooting. On the coattails of the pressure, Dorsey dominated for the Ducks scoring 10 of their first 18 points on a perfect 4-4 shooting performance, including two three pointers.
Despite moving the ball well and getting decent looks at the basket over the first 20 minutes of the game, Utah would miss 70% of their layups at the rim. Utah got the ball under control and only turned the ball over one time in the last nine minutes of play, but they couldn’t score the ball. In the first half Utah shot an appalling 38% and went 0-8 from tries beyond the arc. Meanwhile, Oregon shot 58% from the floor and had 11 assists on 18 made field goals. That was too much for Utah to overcome and they found themselves in a 41-25 halftime deficit.
Losing the Handle
Just as it appeared like Utah had figured out how to move the ball against the Oregon defense, the Utes completely fell apart. Over a 2:09 period Utah turned the ball over on four straight possessions. Tyler Rawson turned the ball over twice while Sedrick Barefield and Jayce Johnson contributed with one a piece. Over that stretch Oregon went on a 6-0 burst and extended the lead to 20 points, 52-32.
Strangely enough, just like in the first half Utah would once again gain composure and this time, not turn the ball over for the remainder of the game. Oregon would eventually wind up scoring 11 points off of the 10 Utah turnovers.
In a game with a lot of darkness, there was one lone bright spot for the Utes. Freshman Jayce Johnson found a great time to have his best game of the season. Utah needed players to step up in the absence of Kuzma and Johnson answered the call, unfortunately he was the only player to do so. Johnson has struggled to make an impact on the floor for Utah and wasn’t even allowed a chance against Stanford on the road. Thursday night he was the best player for Utah. Johnson recorded his first career double-double with his career highs in points and rebounds, 14 points and 12 rebounds. Johnson also had the best plus/minus on the team by far with a -1, eight points better than the next player.
Johnson did a little of everything. First he tested the waters with what has been his best move this season, back-to-the-basket, shoulder fake and a baby hook. Then he began to hit the boards.
At one point, the freshman got back to back offensive rebounds and followed them up with put-backs. He then finished the night with his highlight of the season. Barefield led the break down the middle of the court with Johnson running hard to his left. Once the defender committed to Barefield, he got the ball in stride to Johnson, who surprisingly controlled the pass really well. Johnson then slammed the ball hard with his left hand after jumping over and posterizing Roman Sorkin for the Ducks.
After a disappointing performance from the Utes, maybe they can keep hopes alive after catching a glimpse of some future talent.
Utah will now get an extra day’s rest as they travel to Corvallis to take on the Oregon State Beavers on Sunday evening. The Beavers remain the biggest disappointment in the conference. They sit at 4-23 and are winless in conference play, 0-14. This should be a game Utah can handle with or without Kuzma. The game will tip at 6:30 PM MT and will be aired on ESPNU.