SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH. – The undefeated Oregon Ducks came into the Huntsman Center, Thursday afternoon, to take on the 11-1 Utah Utes, in the first PAC-12 conference game of the year. After playing only two road games this season – one of which was at the Moda Center in Portland, basically in the Ducks’ backyard – this one would not only test Oregon’s ability to take on adversity, but would also show how hungry the team is to prove its legitimacy in the national conversation.
Oregon and Utah have had their share of battles over the years, with an all-time record of 11-9, Ducks. Utah came into this game having the No. 4 scoring team in the nation (Oregon is No. 1). But No. 4 doesn’t beat No. 1, unless they want it more than the other team, and tonight, that simply was not the case.
The Ducks flew high to win the opening tip of the game, a promising start especially in such a hostile environment. Both teams started the game playing man-to-man defense. Although the Ducks were looking to run early, which normally favors their style of play, they struggled mightily doing the simplest of tasks, which gave Utah an opportunity to strike first.
I didn’t know it was possible, but the Ducks actually played TOO fast, not able to run plays smoothly, turning the ball over, forgetting the meaning of a pump-fake and missing the easiest of shots. It all looked horrible as the Utes took a 9-2 lead with 13:25 left in the first half. Oregon must have forgotten that they lead the nation in scoring, as they were only able to put up two points in almost seven minutes of play!
With the Ducks shooting themselves in the foot early in this one, Coach Altman had to make some quick decisions before things got out of hand. He made an interesting decision putting in Dominic Artis with 13 minutes left, as Artis has struggled to find his way after his return to the line-up a couple of weeks back.
But, we have to trust Dana’s decisions, as he knows better than anyone what’s going on with his team not only on the court, but also off the court. And trusting is what we did, as Artis, a score-first point guard, came in for Loyd, a pass-first point guard, to help get things rolling for the Ducks.
Artis not only came in to give a spark off the bench offensively, as Oregon got back into this one down 15-12, but he also did some damage defensively. Utah wasn’t necessarily shooting well from the field, but they were able to swing the ball around enough times so they could feed the big men Jordan Loveridge and Dallin Bachynski inside for easy baskets. Artis was able to stop the initial look by Utah’s point guard, disrupting the offensive flow of the Utes, and leading to Oregon’s resurgence.
Oregon continued to battle around, but definitely didn’t look like the Ducks we know, as they finished the half with a score of 32-28, Utah. Twenty-eight points on the half; what could have happened?! It was clear Oregon wasn’t shooting well without looking at the box score, as they shot an ugly 37%, to Utah’s 45%. But, that wasn’t the only issue.
With Oregon’s unique style of play comes an important statistic that is incredibly relevant — assists. The Ducks finished with three assists in the half, to Utah’s nine! It also didn’t help that with all of their carelessness came eight turnovers. The teams were very similar on the boards, 19-18 Utah, and both teams shot a horrible 67% from the line.
This one would come down to who could execute better, take care of the ball and simply want it more. Man, oh man, did this game become a battle of who was hungrier for that W in the second half. It’s very hard to do what the Ducks ended up doing after such a difficult first half, as the whole mental game starts to mess with players. “Should I shoot this shot? I haven’t made it the whole night!” Or, “He missed four of those shots already, I don’t trust him with this one so I’ll take a more contested shot since I’m a better shooter.” These are the kind of ideas that can flow in a basketball player’s mind throughout the course of a game; especially with the way things were going for the Ducks.
But, coaches always make sure that players are aware of trusting their teammates. This is a 5-on-5 game, people, not 1-on-5. That’s exactly what the Ducks did the second half, they stopped going solo and began trusting one another. Still, not much of a press was put up by the Ducks to start the second 20 minutes, which was a little questionable, but Dana wanted to ensure his players would have something left in the tank when this one would come to an end.
Utah started off the half playing just as well as they did in the first, getting stops, moving the ball around and feeding the big men. No one on the Ducks shot the ball well to begin the half, making the fans a little worried about whether or not this team is here for the long run. But, with the depth of this team, no one should be worried about the score until the last minute of the game, because anyone, at any point, at any time, can lead this squad.
Jason Calliste, who had a quiet night, began what would be a magical night for the Ducks, as he hit a jumper with 15:45 left, to stop the Ducks’ cold spell. After a few stops, and Artis coming in and getting buckets, the Ducks were back in it, with a score of 47-43, Utah. Dana made a decision that may have been the turning point of this one, as he played three point guards at once in Artis, Loyd and Calliste!
This decision allowed for Oregon to penetrate more as they took it to the basket, drawing fouls, and getting to the line. With big plays from Elgin Cook and Damyean Dotson toward the end of the game, Oregon was able to tie the game up 62-62, giving Utah one shot at ending this one. Loveridge took the potential game-winning three for Utah at the end of the second half, which he bricked badly, allowing this hungry Ducks team to go to overtime and have one more shot at maintaining their undefeated record.
Still in overtime, this one would come down to the final seconds. Dotson tied the game with 30 seconds left, at 68-68, on two clutch free throws, giving Utah another opportunity to close this one out for good this time. But the hunger, the tenacity, and the good basketball techniques that these Ducks possess wouldn’t allow Utah to win this one.
With 5 seconds left in the game, Utah inbounds the ball to Bachynski, who had been dominating the Ducks the whole night. Dotson, with his incredibly good hands, tapped the ball out from behind the big (7’0) man to Artis, who then made one final tap to the front court, allowing Dotson to run after it and absolutely FLUSH a jam in to take the lead with .6 seconds left! But, somehow, Oregon didn’t have a defender leaking in their backcourt, giving Loveridge an opportunity to make a game-winning three off a heave thrown down court – luckily missing – leading to Oregon’s 13th straight win.
There wasn’t one dominant player for the Ducks, but everyone did all the little things to give themselves a shot at this one, and that’s how the game should be played, baby! No egos – all team ball. That’s Duck basketball.
Top Photo from Video of Damyean Dotsun showing us he KNOWS this victory was about this team’s heart.