Preparing to play Oregon in late January, Utah basketball coach Larry Krystkowiak practiced with four offensive players against five defenders in an effort to simulate the Ducks' pressure defense.
And then the Utes got into the game and looked like they were going against six or seven defensive players in a long stretch of a 78-72 loss at the Huntsman Center. So even without knowing for sure that Oregon will be their quarterfinal opponent Thursday night in the Pac-12 tournament in Las Vegas, the Utes have to spend time getting ready for everything the Ducks do.
“They pose some interesting problems for us,” Krystkowiak said before Tuesday's practice.
Oregon is the No. 6 seed, facing No. 11 Washington State late Wednesday night in a first-round game at T-Mobile Arena. Utah is not disregarding WSU, but is more familiar with the Cougars after facing them twice — including a 92-79 victory Feb. 23. WSU’s playing style is conventional, compared with Oregon’s. The Ducks’ “pressure is unique in our conference,” said Ute guard Parker Van Dyke.
Utah vs. Oregon/Washington State
Thursday, 9:30 p.m. MDT
The Utes (17-13, 11-7 Pac-12) earned the No. 3 seed and a first-round bye, only to get a potentially tough draw in the quarterfinals. Oregon (19-12, 10-8) has won four straight, while not allowing more than 61 points. The Ducks have beaten Krystkowiak’s teams four times in Las Vegas, including three of the past four years. Krystkowiak is 2-14 against Oregon coach Dana Altman in eight years of Pac-12 competition.
In January, the Utes took a 30-16 lead with excellent defense and 3-point shooting, before everything crumbled. Foul trouble for forwards Donnie Tillman and Timmy Allen was a factor; but the biggest issue was Oregon’s move to a man-to-man, full-court press that caused all kinds of trouble.
The Utes committed all varieties of turnovers, losing the ball eight times in their last 14 possessions of the first half. The futility reached a point where the Utes couldn't even in-bound the ball successfully from their own baseline, and they finished with 19 turnovers. In about 16 minutes spanning halftime, Oregon made a 39-14 run and eventually led by 14 points before Utah made a mild rally.
The Utes “threw the ball all over the gym,” Van Dyke said. “You can't give them those easy opportunities. … Now that we've experienced their press, we can handle it better.”
Sedrick Barefield, Utah’s All-Pac-12 guard, went 4 of 16 from the field in that game and the Utes made one basket in a 12-minute stretch. “It wasn’t pretty,” he said. “There’s a lot to take from it. We got sped up and had a hard time getting the ball to the guards to break the press. So there’s a lot to learn. … I think we can prevent that from happening.”
Rebounding also will be an emphasis for the Utes. Junior center Jayce Johnson, the team’s leading rebounder, remains questionable with an ankle injury after missing last week’s wins over USC and UCLA.