Thursday , March 06, 2014 - 11:10 AM
SALT LAKE CITY -- Utah has had to travel a rocky road to rebuild a once-proud basketball program. The Utes have spent two seasons as a Pac-12 doormat and have often found themselves on the wrong end of blowout losses.
All of those growing pains made the performance Utah turned in against No. 19 Oregon on Saturday feel so much sweeter.
Jason Washburn had 20 points and 13 rebounds, and Jarred DuBois added 15 points and several key baskets down the stretch to propel the Utes to a 72-62 win at the Huntsman Center. Jordan Loveridge and Brandon Taylor chipped in 14 points apiece for Utah.
The victory marked a milestone in so many ways for the Utes (13-17, 5-13), who won consecutive Pac-12 games for the first time since joining the league. It also marked the first time Utah beat a ranked Pac-12 opponent in league play.
“We took down a giant,” Washburn said. “We took down a Top 25 team and it couldn’t have been done in any more of a spectacular fashion.”
It was Utah’s first win over a ranked opponent since beating No. 20 Illinois 60-58 on Nov. 27, 2009.
E.J. Singler had 21 points and seven rebounds to lead Oregon (23-8, 12-6), which finished in a second-place tie behind UCLA for the Pac-12 regular-season championship.
The Ducks trailed from start to finish and often made things easy for Utah, which dominated inside. The Utes held a 31-28 edge on the boards and a 34-21 advantage on points in the paint. They also forced the Ducks to commit 15 turnovers and scored 21 points off those miscues.
“We didn’t play with the energy, the purpose, the focus that we needed,” Oregon coach Dana Altman said. “In a game like this, every possession counts and we didn’t get to the ball quick enough.”
The most glaring area of domination came in the transition game. Utah scored 12 fast-break points. The Ducks, on the other hand, failed to score a single transition basket.
“Our defensive strategy starts when we shoot it,” Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak said. “We’re not going to give up transition baskets. Those are the really easy ones. Often times, we send three people back.”
Utah got off to a blistering start and kept it going throughout the first half. The Utes shot 65.5 percent from the field and pressured Oregon’s backcourt into turnovers. Utah forced the Ducks to cough it up nine times before halftime. Eight of those were steals by the Utes.
“That was straight energy,” Utah forward Cedric Martin said. “We came out aggressive, played hard on defense, didn’t let them get rebounds.”
Martin turned one steal by DuBois into a fast-break layup that capped a game-opening 9-0 run for the Utes. After the Ducks cut the lead back to three, Loveridge stole the ball and helped set up a jumper by Washburn that gave Utah a 15-10 lead.
Oregon stayed within striking distance by heating up on the perimeter. The Ducks made their first three 3-pointers. The last one from Dominic Artis drew Oregon to 21-20 with 11:27 remaining in the first half.
Martin answered with a 3-pointer on the other end to spark a 9-2 Utah run. DuBois capped the spurt with a driving layup that gave Utah a 30-20 lead with 9 minutes left before halftime.
“They really took it at us that first half,” Altman said. “I was really disappointed defensively as they shot 65 percent and killed us on the boards. We never recovered.”
After Oregon trimmed the deficit to six again on a pair of free throws and a basket from Ben Carter, Utah closed the half on a 10-2 run. Washburn capped it by converting a three-point play with 2.9 seconds left to give the Utes a 44-30 lead going into the locker room.
Washburn started the second half the same way he ended the first. He converted another three-point play in the opening minute that gave the Utes a 47-30 lead.
Oregon rallied and trimmed the deficit to single digits when Artis hit a 3-pointer to make it 55-47 with 11:05 left. Another 3-pointer from Singler made it 60-54 with 7:30 to go.
DuBois steadied the ship for Utah. He scored a pair of baskets to push the lead back to 10. Brandon Taylor then added a layup off a long rebound and a jumper to cap a 10-2 run that gave the Utes a 70-56 cushion with 3:28 remaining.
Utah stayed in front because it refused to yield ground on defense — even when Oregon made its run to get back in the game.
“They have a lot of offensive firepower on that team,” Washburn said. “They’ve got a lot of different ways they can beat you. You’ve got to pick and choose your battles with that team. We picked right and guessed right.”
The Utes head to the Pac-12 tournament looking like a dangerous underdog that could spoil the at-large NCAA hopes of a team or two. Utah won’t be a favorite to win any game, but Krystkowiak feels as though the Utes have made enough progress to compete with anyone in Las Vegas next week.
“I feel like we’re moving into the next phase,” Krystkowiak said. “We still have a long way to go, but there’s no loser talk about what we experienced last year.”
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