EUGENE, Ore. — If nothing else, progress was made in Utah’s 73-64 loss to Oregon on Saturday.
Less than a year after suffering the most lopsided loss in program history at Matthew Knight Arena — a 46-point setback — the Utes gave the 19th-ranked Ducks quite a scare. They led at halftime and battled throughout in a physical Pac-12 contest.
“I was really proud of the way our guys scrapped,” said Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak, who liked the mindset and determination that the Utes showed. “We made some strides forward even though we lost the basketball game.”
Utah jumped out to a surprising 30-22 halftime lead behind 14 points from Jordan Loveridge and 10 from Jason Washburn. The Utes outscored the Ducks 15-2 in points off of turnovers, allowing them to overcome a 22-6 rebounding deficit.
Besides forcing 11 miscues, Utah’s defense limited Oregon to just 30.8 percent shooting (8-26) in the first half. Although the lead changed hands seven times and was tied on five occasions, the Utes managed to build their eight-point lead by holding the Ducks to just a pair of free throws over the final 5:13 of the half.
Trailing 20-19, Utah opened the swing by reeling off eight straight points — four by Loveridge and two each by Washburn and Brandon Taylor. It fueled an 11-2 outburst capped by a foul shot from Taylor and a buzzer-beating basket by Washburn.
“We went into this locker room at halftime feeling really good,” Washburn said. “We were up on the top team in the (conference) by eight and we were doing the right things despite mistakes like the offensive glass. So that was really encouraging.”
Oregon had 11 offensive rebounds at the break, a number that swelled to 19 in the decisive second half. The Ducks climbed back into contention with a decisive 24-6 edge in second-chance points by game’s end. They took the lead for good with an 11-0 run (part of what eventually became an 18-2 spurt) midway through the second half.
“They got the momentum in their favor and took off with it,” said Washburn, who topped the Utes with 20 points and seven rebounds. “It’s hard to keep up with a good team in their own house when they have that type of momentum.”
Oregon wound up with a 41-19 rebounding edge. Arsalan Kazemi pulled down a game-high 14.
Although Krystkowiak said the Utes were tremendous defensively, the same cannot be said about their rebounding. That, he noted, along with missing open shots and mindless turnovers at times, led to big Oregon runs the Utes hoped to avoid.
“That’s going to get you in the end,” Krystkowiak said.
A technical foul on Cedric Martin early in the second half also proved to be pivotal. It was part of a swing that allowed Oregon to quickly climb back into contention.
“There’s no little things in basketball. Coach tells us that all the time. Things can turn on such a small thing and that might have been one of their turning points,” Washburn said. “Their crowd got really into (it) after that. They got a lot of energy out of it and they took off.”
Oregon’s defensive pressure also got stronger as the game progressed. Nine of Utah’s 13 turnovers came after halftime.
“I thought we did a good job of dealing with that pressure in the first half,” Krystkowiak said. “We made some plays and were real efficient offensively.”
Then, he explained, the Ducks cranked up the heat — getting more aggressive on both ends of the floor.
“They started to gain a little momentum. They started getting key offensive rebounds. They started going to the foul line,” said Taylor. “That was really big for them.”
Oregon’s E.J. Singler led all scorers with 21 points, making 12 free throws in the process. The Ducks, in fact, scored their final 15 points from the line. Three Utes (Martin, Taylor and Jarred DuBois) wound up fouling out.
Despite the adversity, Utah managed to cut a double-digit deficit down to 61-55 with just over two minutes remaining. The Utes, though, could draw no closer down the stretch.
“We never gave in. We never shied away from what we needed to do and I’m very proud of my team for that,” Washburn said. “But a moral victory doesn’t help me sleep better.”
The Utes (10-13 overall, 2-9 in Pac-12 play) return home next week to face Arizona State on Wednesday and Arizona on Sunday.
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