Eugene, OR – The Oregon Ducks started the New Year in hope for their first conference win, facing the Utah Utes. The Utes struggled in their previous outing, losing up north in Corvallis to Oregon State. They too, are looking to rebound with a win and split their road trip against the Oregon schools. The backcourt duo of Jacob Young and Will Richardson took the game over in the second half, combining to score 36 of the team’s 50 points in the half to run away from the visiting Utes 79-66 at Matthew Knight Arena Saturday night in front of 5,655 fans. Richardson would finish with a game-high 26 points while Young added 22 points.
The first ten minutes of the game Oregon had another long stretch struggling to score the ball. This is in part to being one of the slower paced offenses in the nation according to KenPom. As a unit, they started out 2-for-11 from the field and fell behind early. Young brought the energy and determination at both ends of the floor, guiding the Ducks right back in the game with a 14-2 run, giving them a 20-14 lead with 8:41 remaining in the half. The Ducks made seven straight field goals in a row during this run. Young went 4-for-7 from the field for nine points in the half. He continued his strong output and displayed his best overall performance of the season. He applied on ball pressure, forcing several turnovers, which led to easy baskets in transition. Also, the 6-3 guard primarily looks to score first, but his game has slowly evolved by setting up teammates for open 3-point looks on the break. Young’s quick handles and ability to get downhill fast to the basket forces the defense to converge and he was able dish to an open man under the basket for a few easy scores. Young tallied 22 points (9-for-16 FG) and added four assists and three steals in the game.
Junior Brandon Carlson is clearly the best player on the Utes roster and has expanded his overall game, where as a freshman he primarily took most of his shots in the post. The 7-footer has extended his range and demonstrated he can score at all three levels, while still producing down low in the post. Carlson at the end of the half heaved a 3-pointer, just past half court, and banked it in giving the Utes a 35-29 lead at the break. He shot 6-for-11 from the field for 16 points, added six rebounds and two blocked shots. His activity on the boards, gave the Utes a 22-14 advantage early and as a team they pulled down eight rebounds on the offensive side.
The Utes received solid contributions from Lazar Stefanovic, who came off the bench to hit two 3-pointers in the first half and pieced together a solid overall game. He scored 10 points (3-of-8 FG) to go along with four rebounds and three assists. The 6-7 Serbian freshman had no fear in looking for his shot. He looked to spot up for the 3-pointer and with simple ball fakes on the perimeter, he would put the ball on the floor with one or two bounces before rising up for a mid-range shot. Marco Anthony, a stout guard used his strength to drive to his spots on the floor, mostly between 10-15 feet. He shot 4-for-9 on field goals to score 14 points in the game. In addition, he was able to get to the foul line, converting on 5-of-6 attempts and added eight rebounds for the Utes. As a unit, Utah went an impressive 13-of-14 from the strike.
The Utes had their largest lead of the game at nine just minutes into the second half after Both Gach hit a wide-open 3-pointer from the corner. After a Coach Altman timeout, the Ducks rallied and went on an 18-4 run to regain the lead at 49-44. During this stretch, Young got Richardson going by picking the ball-handlers pocket, then passing it up the floor to him on the break, which Richardson converted with an up and under lay-in. Richardson, a 6-5 senior, has been a part of three straight NCAA tournament teams and is looking to lead his team to a fourth straight (In the 2019-20 season Oregon won the Pac-12 regular season title and would have been in the tourney before the tournament was cancelled due to Covid-19). He was unstoppable in the second half, shooting a perfect 8-for-8 from the field and connecting on all four 3-point attempts. The lefty stepped up his level of play with aggressive attacks to the basket converting with the left hand over defenders at the basket. Also, he utilized a step-back jumper from the 3-point line and was unconscious catching and firing from the perimeter in transition. He scored 23 of his 26 points (9-for-12 FG) in the second half, connected on five 3-pointers for the game while adding five rebounds and three assists.
The pace of play in the second half changed dramatically for the Ducks, as they poured in 50 points compared to 29 in the first half as they shot 64.3 percent (56 percent for the game). Oregon also outscored the Utes in fast break points 22-6, with most of those points coming in the second half. De’Vion Harmon and N’Faly Dante made key contributions in the Ducks victory as they scored 11 and eight points respectively. Harmon, one of three lead guards for the Ducks, made a few strong drives in transition prior to allowing the defense to set up. He shot 5-of-11 from the field and pulled down five rebounds. Dante, the 6-11 junior, who is still making some mental errors, had five turnovers, but made up for it with strong play on the glass. He pulled down 10 rebounds and helped Oregon overcome their lack of fight early on the boards. Lastly, the defense clamped down for the Ducks after giving up multiple open looks from the perimeter. They held Utah to 28 percent on 3s (7-for-25), preventing the Utes from getting back into the game.
Oregon (8-6, 1-2) will look to get back to .500 in conference play as they host Colorado (9-3, 1-1) on January 3rd. Utah (8-6, 1-3) will host the Washington Huskies (5-5, 0-0) on January 6th.