Eugene, Ore. • On Jan. 4, the University of Utah gave then-No. 4 Oregon all it could handle.
It ran, it defended, it took momentary second-half leads twice at the Huntsman Center. The Utes fell that day, but a young team stood toe-to-toe with the best team in the Pac-12.
Jan. 4 was a long time ago.
The 17th-ranked Ducks are the top 3-point shooting team in the Pac-12 and inside the top-25 percent nationally. On Sunday night they acted like it, knocking down 10 of 15 attempts in the first half. Eight of them came from Will Richardson and prohibitive Pac-12 Player of the Year favorite Payton Pritchard as Oregon rode the hot shooting to an 80-62 win over the Utes at Matthew Knight Arena.
Oregon finished 12 for 24 from 3-point range as Pritchard pumped in a game-high 25 points for the night on 8-for-13 shooting.
“Guys stepped up and made some of those 10 in the first half, but there were four off the glass (on offensive rebounds), and a couple ball-watching ones,” Utes coach Larry Krystkowiak said. “Just the discipline against an elite team, but I’m not going to question our effort. I thought we were ready to go. It was a seven-point game, about eight minutes left in the first half.
“It was a nice little flow, we were playing hard enough and then boom, three straight 3s. It went from seven to 16 just like that.”
The sequence Krystkowiak lamented saw the Utes (14-11, 5-8 Pac-12) trail by just seven at 31-24, after Branden Carlson dropped in a baby hook with 6:10 before halftime. Over the next 1:40, the Ducks took the building over.
Chris Duarte swung the ball to Anthony Mathis, who knocked down a triple from the left wing for a 10-point lead. The Ducks defense forced one of their 13 turnovers down at the other end before Mathis knocked down another triple.
Up 13 with the ball, Mathis missed a heat-check 3-point attempt out of a halfcourt set, but Duarte corralled the offensive rebound, kicked it out to Pritchard for the fourth of his five first-half triples. That one gave the Ducks (20-6, 9-4 Pac-12) a 40-24 lead and caused Krystkowiak to burn a timeout.
“They came out and they hit a lot of shots,” freshman point guard Rylan Jones said after scoring 18 points on 5-for-11 shooting in 38 minutes. “They shot the ball well and we screwed up some coverages, ball-watched and everything. They just made their open 3s.”
The Utes are now 0-for-7 in Pac-12 road games this season with only two more to play, at Stanford on Feb. 26 and at Cal on Feb. 29.
To Utah’s credit, after these road trips, some of which have been tougher to swallow than others, it has done a nice job of going home, rallying and playing well. The Utes are 10-1 at the Huntsman Center, the aforementioned Jan. 4 loss to the Ducks standing as the one, with UCLA and USC coming to town this weekend.
“Past performance is not a great predictor of what we’ve got ahead of us,” Krystkowiak said. “We’ve got to get dialed in and have another great week, and it’s really important. We can’t have any days that we aren’t making some type of progress, mentally or physically on the court.
“I’m confident in our guys. Sixty percent of our remaining games are at home and we’ve got to get it clicking.”
“That’s what we’re going to shoot to do,” Jones added. “Go home, get better, get better tomorrow, keep getting better every day.”