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Utah hoops was rolling at the Pac-12 Tournament, then Oregon State went to a 1-3-1 zone

Oregon State's Kylor Kelley (24) dunks against Utah during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in the first round of the Pac-12 men's tournament Wednesday, March 11, 2020, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

As the first half of Oregon State’s 71-69 win over Utah in the first round of the Pac-12 Tournament unfolded on Wednesday, Alfonso Plummer was hitting everything from everywhere. Beavers coach Wayne Tinkle was at a loss.

With Plummer, a Utes junior sharpshooter experiencing a late-season awakening over the last two weeks, already having shred multiple man-to-man defenders and a 2-3 zone, Tinkle was hesitant to go 1-3-1, knowing Plummer could shred that defense, too.

Plummer hit his ninth 3-pointer of the afternoon with 17:09 to go, giving the Utes their largest lead of the game of 14 at 47-33. At that point, Tinkle had no choice but to get on board.

“We were wanting to go to our 1-3-1 in the first half, but with Plummer hitting shots with blindfolds on, we were worried,” Tinkle said. “The coaches did a great job of saying. ‘He's hitting them against man, against our 2-3, let's give it a shot.’ Credit to the staff for selling that to me.”

You don’t see a lot of defenses employing a 1-3-1. It is tough to execute and you need certain personnel to make it effective. Specifically, a 1-3-1 needs a long, athletic guy manning it at the top, another athlete on the bottom to roam both sides of the baseline and, preferably, a legit big man in the middle of it.

Oregon State does not have superior personnel, but Tinkle’s rotation does check off enough boxes where 1-3-1 is an option. So, down 14, Tinkle pulled the trigger and things got tougher for Utah, as they would for most teams when an opponent rolls an exotic defense like that.

The Utes looked prepared for man-to-man, and adjusted well to Oregon State’s 2-3 look, but their offense looked stagnant against that 1-3-1.

“We had a pretty good plan against man, I thought we did a nice job executing the 2-3 zone, but it got a little bit more complicated,” Krystkowiak said. “If we look back on it, I know there was a number of open threes. It wasn't the matter of the defense being stifling. It gets you standing around, and when you get an open look against the 1-3-1, it's the unique pressure you don't feel at other points in the game.

“Those shots didn't go in. I thought we had some really good looks. Credit the defense, we knew it was coming. They played a number of different defenses all year.”

After Plummer’s ninth triple put the Utes up 14, they shot just just 7-for-18 the rest of the way, including 2-for-7 from deep. Plummer made both of those treys to give him 11 for the day, including his 11th make to give Utah a 69-65 lead with 1:12 to play. That lead did not hold because Oregon State’s second-half pressure helped bring the win home. The Utes 17th turnover came off that pressure, leading to Jarod Lucas’ corner 3-pointer with 1.8 seconds left for the win.

“Seventeen turnovers, you’re not going to win many ballgames and the 1-3-1 disrupted us, as it has a few teams this year,” Krystkowiak said. “We spent some time preparing on it, but I thought those were some of the keys to the game.”

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