Las Vegas • Utah’s defense resembled Oregon’s for a long time Thursday night in the Pac-12 quarterfinals.
In the end, the actual version of the Ducks' defense was too much for the Utes to overcome in a 66-54 loss at T-Mobile Arena.
The No. 3-seeded Utes (17-14) will go home angry about the officiating and wondering how the usual shooting of senior guards Sedrick Barefield and Parker Van Dyke might have altered the outcome. They combined to miss their first 11 attempts from 3-point range and finished 1 of 16 after going 19 of 42 in wins over USC and UCLA last week. They scored nine points between them on 4-of-23 shooting overall, and Van Dyke’s two baskets came after the outcome was decided.
“Man, it's just too bad I didn't shoot it better,” Van Dyke said.
Barefield was not happy with the two first-half fouls that cost him 11 minutes of playing time, even though the Utes took a 24-18 halftime lead. “That game was extremely physical,” he said. “For them to call those fouls was pretty disappointing. Personally, it took me a little out of rhythm.”
Remarkably, Utah’s 34-percent shooting was slightly better than Oregon had allowed during its previous five wins in this streak. The Utes had 12 turnovers, leading to 10 points for Oregon. Ute coach Larry Krystkowiak said he could accept those numbers, but the Ducks’ six steals seemed to come at critical times.
Utah got 18 points from Donnie Tillman and 14 from Timmy Allen, although Tillman’s 1-of-6 shooting contributed to the Utes’ 2-of-23 total of 3-point inaccuracy. Louis King and each Payton Pritchard scored 20 points for the Ducks (21-12).
Utah's goal was to follow through just this once after posting another top-four finish and first-round bye in the Pac-12 tournament, having absorbed quarterfinal losses to California and Oregon the previous two years.
Asked if he felt jinxed or cheated, Krystkowiak said, “I don’t see it as being mystical; it’s just a matter of making plays. I really liked how we played for an awful lot of the game. I do think, as simple as it sounds, it comes down to a lot of those 3s.”
Krystkowiak remained hopeful of an NIT bid, although that seems unlikely. Utah wouldn't pursue another postseason opportunity; schools in power conferences rarely do so.
The Utes came into this matchup knowing that Oregon coach Dana Altman was 14-2 against Krystkowiak in eight years of Pac-12 competition, including 4-0 in Las Vegas. The No. 6-seeded Ducks had been suffocating opponents' offenses lately, while scoring their share of points and looking like genuine contenders for the tournament title.
“People have talked about them being the hottest team in the league,” said Washington State coach Ernie Kent, whose 84-51 loss to the Ducks in Wednesday's first round ended up costing him his job Thursday.
Altman, though, professed to worry about Utah's offense. “They score so easily, it will really challenge our defense,” he said.
That didn't happen at all in the first half, but this was the twist: Utah played even better defense than Oregon. Until guard Payton Pritchard drove for a layup in the last six seconds, the Ducks had shot 7 of 28 from the field.
The Utes' 24-18 halftime lead was remarkable, considering the All-Pac-12 Barefield scored only two points, missing the last 11 minutes after picking up his second foul in a scramble for a loose ball. Utah had some trouble with turnovers, but Tillman's ability to score inside and get to the free-throw line provided some offense and Jayce Johnson was a rim-protecting force on defense with eight rebounds and three blocked shots. He finished with 12 points and four blocks.
Utah's defensive effort resembled Oregon's usual stuff, with aggressiveness that had led Krystkowiak to say the Ducks “pose some interesting problems for us.”
The script flipped to start the second half, as Oregon scored the first six points to tie the game. The Ducks later went ahead 31-28 on Pritchard's drive for a 3-point play and stayed in front. Every time the Utes made a run, Oregon answered with a 3-pointer from King or a press-breaking dunk.
The Ducks will meet No. 2 seed Arizona State in Friday’s semifinals.