Forces collided Saturday night as the Oregon Ducks took on the Utes of Utah. Fresh off a loss to Colorado in Boulder, the Ducks were looking to right the ship, while Utah, who hasn’t played in a week, their last game a tough loss to USC in which they only scored 46 points, were looking to get back to the win column at home.
The Ducks suffered their 10th straight loss to the Colorado Buffaloes in Boulder on Thursday, and it appeared that they were still feeling the after-effects of that defeat, starting off slowly against Utah. While the activeness on defense was familiar, Oregon fell behind 12-4 as Utah’s unselfishness and open looks from three created easy buckets for the Utes. But basketball is a game of runs, and Oregon went on a 12-2 run, seizing their their first lead of the game off a pair of threes from Chris Duarte. The current Pac-12 Player of the Week has been on a tear as of late, and his hot play has been crucial for the Ducks.
Despite a slow start on offense, Oregon started to piece things together as the half wore on, Amauri Hardy and LJ Figueroa hit consecutive three-pointers to retake the lead at 21-20. However, the advantage started to shift back to the Utes, who took a 33-25 lead with just over three minutes left in the half. Utah was finding success against Oregon all over the floor, knocking down threes and finding lanes to the basket for easy points in the paint.
Utah continued to turn up the pressure as the half wore on, at one point stretching the lead to double digits. The biggest issue the Ducks had in the first period was the offense lacked rhythm, going through hot stretches before going cold. Eugene Omoruyi, one of the Ducks most reliable scorers, failed to score in the first half. Meanwhile, Utah’s Timmy Allen torched the Ducks for 17 in the first half, scoring in a variety of ways to keep the Ducks on their heels. A last second bucket gave Utah a double digit lead going into the half, 43-33.
The second half started more favorably for the Ducks, as a turnover turned into a Eric Williams three, pulling their deficit back to double digits. Another TO became a Figueroa finish, and the ensuing possession for Utah became a 24-second violation. As we have seen this year, Oregon has found success by using their tough defense to create opportunities on offense. Using a 12-4 run, Oregon put themselves back into the game, and an offense that seemed out of sorts and rather clunky in the first half looked revitalized and playing with a sense of urgency that they didn’t have before.
Oregon took their first lead of the half off an Amauri Hardy and-1, and you have to wonder if these Ducks were the same ones we saw in the first period. The intensity, the ball-movement and effort on both ends of the floor were night-and-day from what we saw previously. However the combination of Allen and Jantunen were keeping Utah neck and neck, taking a 57-54 lead with just over ten minutes left.
Despite taking a 61-59 lead, the Ducks had little to be happy about, as a contested rebound resulted in LJ Figueroa going down with what looked like an ankle injury. The Ducks are already missing several key players due to injury, so losing LJ to any extended period of time would be a massive blow to Oregon. We’re all hoping he’s alright and the injury won’t be too serious. A mini-run by Oregon gave them a 67-61 lead, as their trademark tough defense continued to flummox the Utes, forcing them into 18 turnovers.
The last minute of the game came with the usual back and forth of fouls and free throws, but in the end, the Ducks made enough plays to come out with a 79-73 victory.
I’m not sure what Head Coach Dana Altman said to the team at halftime, but whatever it was sure did the trick. The Ducks team we saw in the second half was vastly different from what we saw before, and they were able to come back from a 10 point deficit and survive Utah’s consistent efforts to put the game out of reach. Chris Duarte and Eric Williams combined for 44 points, and although LJ Figueroa left the game with injury, the Ducks do have to feel good about heading back to Eugene with a win, especially coming off their 10th straight loss to Colorado in Boulder.