Trailing by two in the waning minutes of the first half, the Ducks called timeout. A frustrated Dana Altman paced the sidelines, shaking his head play after play, missed opportunity after missed opportunity. The Ducks weren’t executing.
After a half marked by miscues, turnovers, missed passes and a handful of fouls, the Ducks trailed 35-33. A USC loss to Arizona earlier in the evening left the Ducks in control of their own destiny despite a less-than-ideal number of games played.
With a major test in store at USC in two days, games like tonight’s were ones the Ducks needed to win.
The Ducks out-sized the Utes, but even so, the Utes capitalized in the paint in the first half. Oregon harnessed a healthy roster for the first time in weeks with the return of Eric Williams Jr., but still appeared rusty on missed passes and turnovers. At halftime, something needed to change.
A new and improved Ducks team ran out of the tunnel to start the second half, overtaking the Utes for a narrow lead. Oregon began to dictate the tempo, running a full court press and slowing down Utah guards Alfonso Plummer and Pelle Larsson, who combined for 18 of the Utes’ 35 first-half points.
Early in the second, Oregon center Franck Kepnang began to outmuscle Utah’s bigs, grabbing rebounds and playing tight, physical defense. He got involved offensively as well, snatching boards and ripping passes out to the wings. Kepnang was the strongest big on the floor, and it was beginning to show.
With three and a half minutes remaining, the Ducks still nursed a narrow lead, but a costly foul on Eugene Omoruyi beyond the arc threw the Utes a lifeline. Plummer knocked down all three free throws, bringing the Utes to a one-point lead over the Ducks in the final minutes.
The Utes drew another foul on their next possession, increasing their lead to three. 61-58 Utes.
As has often been the case, the Ducks turned to veteran players to lead them back into the game, moving down the court decisively and feeding the ball to senior forward Chris Duarte for a game-tying corner three. 61-61.
A three-pointer from LJ Figueroa gave the Ducks yet another lead, but the Utes still wouldn’t go away, marching down the court and hitting another contested three.
Duarte went to the line on the next possession, hitting only his first. 65-64 Ducks, but the Utes still had a chance to take a late-game lead with 30 seconds remaining.
Oregon’s full-court press put pressure on the Utes right off the inbound, forcing the ball to roll out of the hands of Utes’ guard Ian Martinez and out of bounds. Ducks ball with 25 seconds remaining.
A quick foul brought Figueroa to the line. He missed, giving the Utes one more chance at a miracle.
Just as the Utes offense set their footing in the Ducks’ end, Duarte met Utes’ forward Timmy Allen at center court. Allen, under duress, backpedaled and committed a double dribble in the final seconds of the game.
Duarte walked to the line and sank both free throws to cap off an all-important 67-64 home victory for the Ducks.
The Ducks will travel to Los Angeles on Monday to stand their greatest in-conference test of the season with the USC Trojans. The Trojans lead the Pac-12, and are the only program in the conference in the nation’s top 25.