SALT LAKE CITY — Oregon entered the season with high hopes. Led by 7-foot-2 freshman Bol Bol and a blend of other talent, the Ducks were tabbed as favorites to win the conference.
Then, nine games into preseason play, Bol was sidelined with a foot injury. He has since declared for the NBA draft, ending his brief collegiate career with averages of 21 points and 9.6 rebounds.
Oregon was 6-3 with Bol and is 6-5 without him. The latter includes a 3-4 mark in the Pac-12.
On Thursday (7 p.m., FS1), these birds of a different feather without Bol visit the Huntsman Center to take on the Utah Utes (11-8, 5-2). Head coach Larry Krystkowiak said he doesn’t know how different Oregon is without the son of former NBA standout Manute Bol.
“I didn’t watch them play with Bol. I never did see Bol Bol play a game in the preseason. I watched a lot of basketball, but it just didn’t coincide with watching Oregon,” Krystkowiak said. “I knew he was putting up an awful lot of numbers with their squad and that’s going to hurt anybody when you lose that kind of production. But what I’m focused on is the team that they have, and they’ve got some guys getting it done.”
Oregon has some established veterans in junior guard Payton Pritchard (11.5 ppg) and senior forward Paul White (10.9 ppg). Krystkowiak referred to them as “guys that have been around the block a little bit.” They mix in with some promising youngsters that include freshman forward Louis King, who is averaging over 17 points per game in Pac-12 play.
While noting their knack for forcing turnovers, Krystkowiak said the Ducks are “an extremely athletic group.”
Although just 3-4 in conference, Oregon does own a 59-54 win over Arizona in Tucson. The Ducks had a pair of near-misses as well — falling to UCLA 87-84 in overtime and 61-56 to Washington. Overall, six of their eight losses this season have been by less than 10 points.
“We’ve got a lot of respect for what they’ve done,” Krystkowiak said.
The Utes, meanwhile, are also deserving of praise. They’ve won four straight games and moved into a second-place tie with USC in the Pac-12 standings.
“I think everything is clicking at the right time,” said freshman Both Gach, who acknowledged that it’s exciting to be in second after being picked to finish eighth in the Pac-12 preseason poll.2 comments on this story
Following the Oregon game, Utah plays host to Oregon State on Saturday (3 p.m., P12N). Krystkowiak said he looks at both the Ducks and Beavers as NCAA Tournament teams.
EXTRA STUFF: Krystkowiak is seeking his 150th victory as Utah’s coach. … Utah statistical leaders include senior guard Sedrick Barefield (16.2 points, 3.7 assists) and junior center Jayce Johnson (6.2 rebounds). … Oregon leads the all-time series with Utah, 20-10. The Ducks and Utes have split 10 meetings in Salt Lake City.
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Oregon (12-8, 3-4)
at Utah (11-8, 5-2)
Thursday, 7 p.m.
Radio: ESPN 700AM