Matt Gade, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — Utah’s third Pac-12 campaign gets off to a tough start. The Utes (11-1) host 10th-ranked Oregon (12-0) Thursday at 6 p.m. The Ducks visit the Huntsman Center as the nation’s top scoring team at 90.8 points per game.
“Oregon is really good in transition and on the glass. They've got a handful of players that take what you give them,” said Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak. “They're very multidimensional. They're deep and they score a lot.”
Led by junior guard Joseph Young (20.2 ppg), the Ducks present quite a challenge for a Utah team that didn’t face a ranked team in nonconference play. The Utes, though, are eager for the challenge.
“We’re ready for it. We’re ready for a top 10 team. We’re ready for Oregon. We’re ready for everybody else that’s in the Pac-12,” said sophomore guard Brandon Taylor. “So when it comes Thursday, there’s no looking back and there’s not going to be any regrets.”
Utah went 3-15 and 5-13 in its first two seasons in the Pac-12. This time around there’s less uncertainty, however, as the program builds strength.
“We don’t feel like we’re going into something that we don’t know what we’re getting in to,” Taylor explained. “We understand the competitive level. We all understand that, even though — we all as a team — haven’t gone into battle in conference play yet.”
With a blend of returning contributors like Taylor and Jordan Loveridge, along with newcomers like Delon Wright, the Utes are making strides.
The Ducks, however, represent their biggest test to date.
“They have so many weapons and stuff like that,” Taylor said. “We’ve just got to slow them down in transition. We’ve got to be able to guard their guys. We have to be able to execute our game plan.”
Loveridge noted that Oregon is a lot like BYU, especially in transition.
“They like to push. They like to get easy buckets. They like to get a lot of easy points off of people’s turnovers,” Loveridge said. “So it’s transition and then also taking care of the ball on offense.”
Rebounding, he added, is another primary emphasis in Utah’s bid for an upset.
The Utes have had some recent success against Oregon. They defeated the Ducks 72-62 last March in the Huntsman Center.
It capped an ugly trip away from Eugene, Ore., for the eventual Pac-12 tournament champions, who dropped a 76-53 decision at Colorado two days earlier.
“We didn’t have a very good road trip last year in Salt Lake and Boulder,” said Oregon coach Dana Altman after his team’s 97-76 win over Morgan State on Sunday. “So hopefully our guys will be better prepared and we’ll have them better prepared hopefully — and we’ll play better than we did a year ago.”
EXTRA STUFF: Utah has won 13 straight games in the Huntsman Center dating back to last season. ... Both teams defeated BYU at home this season. The Utes prevailed 81-64 on Dec. 14 and the Ducks topped the Cougars 100-96 in overtime on Dec. 21. ... Utah takes on Oregon State Saturday at 2 p.m.
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