Pac-12 Tournament semifinal preview: Utah presents a tall order for speedy Oregon
LAS VEGAS -- It'll be pace versus power on Friday night when the No. 2 seed Oregon Ducks face third-seeded Utah in the second semifinal of the Pac-12 Men's Basketball Tournament Friday at the MGM Grand Garden Arena (8:30 p.m. PT, ESPN).
Oregon loves to push the tempo -- as evidenced by its 93-85 win over Colorado in Thursday's quarterfinal -- while the Utes have relied on their size and strength to bully teams all year. The Runnin' Utes, ranked No. 17 in the country, certainly looked like one of the nation's best teams in their 80-56 victory against Stanford on Thursday.
It hasn't been long since the Ducks and Utes last met. Back on Feb. 22 in Eugene, Dillon Brooks scored 19 points to lead Oregon to a 69-58 win over Utah, which was ranked No. 9 in the country at the time. And don't think the Utes have forgot about it.
"You're always excited to rematch against a team that beat you," Utah star Delon Wright said after Thursday's win.
Including that loss, the Utes are 3-3 in their past six games. Meanwhile, Oregon has been one of the hottest teams in the Pac-12 over the past six weeks going 12-2 against conference foes since Jan. 22.
So what makes the Ducks such a tough matchup?
"It's a high-energy offensive team," Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak said. "They move the basketball real well with [Oregon coach] Dana [Altman's] motion [offense] that he's run for years and puts people in a position for them to succeed."
Pac-12 Player of the Year Joseph Young erupted for 30 points in Thursday's win for Oregon, but Utah is a disciplined defensive team that features one of the league's best defensive guards in Brandon Taylor. Young and the Ducks looked flat to start Thursday's contest, but eventually ramped up the energy in the second half. Young said he's hoping Oregon can sustain that effort against the Utes, who feature a balanced and efficient scoring attack.
"I feel like we just got to get better on the defensive end," Young said. "We came out a little rusty. We've got to be more active starting off the game. ... I feel like we're going to do a better job in the second game by coming out as a team, being more collective, more active."
Likewise, the Ducks figure to have their hands full against do-it-all Delon, who starred in Thursday's win with 20 points, seven rebounds, five assists and three blocks. Utah's man in the middle Jakob Poeltl, who is listed at 7-foot, 230 pounds, also poses an interesting matchup for Oregon, which usually uses an undersized lineup. Elgin Cook (6-foot-6) and Dwayne Benjamin (6-foot-7) are the main men in the low post for the Ducks, while freshman Jordan Bell (6-foot-9) has been inconsistent at times.
Utah should also have the crowd in its favor on Friday. The Runnin' Utes enjoyed something of a home-game atmosphere against Stanford, a welcome change after wrapping up the regular season with four of six contests on the road.
"It did feel good to get some of that mojo back," Krystkowiak said.