Eugene, Ore. • Larry Krystkowiak stood with a grin on his face nine years in the making as he answered questions following the Utes’ win against Oregon on Friday night.
Utah trailed by as many as 13 points in the first half and eight points at halftime, but rallied for a 66-56 win to snap a nine-game losing streak against the Ducks. Utah hadn’t beaten the Ducks in Eugene since 1951.
Senior guard Justin Bibbins scored 19 points to lead four Utes in double figures including Sedrick Barefield (16 points), David Collette (11 points) and Tyler Rawson (10 points). Rawson also registered team-highs with nine rebounds and seven assists.
“It’s a tough place to play, and our guys [get] a lot of credit,” Krystkowiak said. “A lot of things came into play. Turning the ball over three times was huge against this team and their length. Two of those were illegal screens. Defensively, I thought we were locked in. We did a heck of a job on [Payton] Pritchard. Kolbe [Caldwell] stepped up and did a nice job on [Elijah] Brown. A lot of things came together, but there was a lot of want-to and a lot of competitive nature.”
The win also marked the Utes first road win in a conference opener since joining the Pac-12.
The Utes bounced back from their lowest-scoring half of the season — at 23-point first half — with an 8-0 run to start the second half. Collette, Bibbins and Gabe Bealer each scored baskets with Bealer and Bibbins hitting from 3-point range.
“We grew off of the three losses we had this season,” said Bibbins, who scored 16 second-half points. “When we’re down 13, we’ve got to keep fighting. When we were down 13, that could’ve went to 20 easily, but it’s a great group and I’m happy we kept fighting.”
Collette’s layup with 17:06 left to play gave the Utes their first lead of the night, 35-34, and brought a momentary hush to the Ducks faithful in the arena. The Utes showed more offensive rhythm and aggressiveness in the opening three minutes after halftime than they had in entire first half.
The Utes offensive surge in the second half also coincided with the Ducks racking up foul trouble. The Ducks committed their eighth team foul with 9:04 remaining, and it also came in the form of the fourth foul on freshman forward Kenny Wooten, the conference’s leading shot blocker.
Wooten’s fourth foul came just at the end of a 10-2 Utes run which gave the Utes a 51-45 lead. A pair of Bibbins 3-pointers served as bookends on the run. The majority of the run came with sophomore center Jayce Johnson on the floor in place of Collette.
The Ducks got no closer than three points in the final eight minutes as the Utes shot 56 percent from the floor in the second half.
“It was just shooting shots,” Rawson said. “They weren’t going in in the first half, and they were in the second half. It’s as simple as that. We were finding open looks. We did a great job moving the ball and trying to keep it away from the shot blockers as much as possible. Making shots is what helped us in the second half.”