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SALT LAKE CITY — Utah has lost to Oregon so many times, it’s seemingly penciled in as a guaranteed loss. But someone forgot to tell the current Runnin’ Utes team about the never-ending losing record.
Utah erased a 21-8 Oregon start Friday and claimed a hard-fought 66-56 victory over the Ducks at the Matthew Knight Arena in Eugene. Utah jumped out to a 10-2 run in the second-half on the hot hand of senior guard Justin Bibbins. The senior finished with a team-high 19 points on 5-of-8 shooting from behind the 3-point line.
The win snaps a nine game Oregon win streak over the Utes and is the first win over the Ducks at home since 1951. It is also the first loss at home for the Ducks in Pac-12 play since Jan. 2015.
Utah will continue its Oregon road trip on Sunday as the Utes take on the Oregon State Beavers at 4 p.m. on the Pac-12 Networks.
Breaking the streak
It may be just one win and is ultimately meaningless with so many Pac-12 games left, but regardless of how the season plays out, Utah needed to break its streak over the Ducks. Whether it’s the overtime buzzer-beating shot by Joe Young to dash Utah’s chances of a Pac-12 championship appearance or the absolute beating the following year in the Pac-12 championship game, Oregon has damaged Utah’s ego over the years.
Sure, Oregon isn’t the same team it was the last few seasons, but neither is Utah. With no true superstar on the Utah roster, the win comes at the most unlikely of times. That’s not to say this Utah team is not worthy of the win, but it takes a stellar team performance from the Utes to dismantle top opponents.
And that’s exactly what Utah did Friday night. Utah pushed through its cold first-half shooting and relied on its defense to keep the game close. Once the shots started falling, it was only a matter of time before the Utes could put the Ducks away. The win was not perfect, but players stepped up and finally showed some aggression on the road — a first this season.
Defense wins the day
As previously mentioned, Utah used a hard-nosed defense to keep Oregon from executing their game plan — transition buckets as the opposing team is scrambling. But head coach Larry Krystkowiak has been preaching transition defense all season and it has finally paid off in a big way for the Utes.
Utah locked up Oregon’s biggest threats and forced the Ducks to take uncomfortable shots. But most importantly, Utah didn’t allow the Ducks to play its high-tempo game and forced them to work out their sets, which ultimately led to a 41 percent shooting night. One of the biggest assets for the Utes was Kolbe Caldwell, who locked up Oregon’s Troy Brown in the second half.
Brown was the team’s leading scorer with 16 points, but 12 of those were in the first half and in the first couple minutes of the game. Caldwell allowed only him to score 4 points on 1-of-4 shooting. Utah also kept the team’s leading scorer, Payton Pritchard, to 7 points on 2-of-10 shooting.
To add to the defense, David Collette and Tyler Rawson were aggressive on the boards and picked up big rebounds in key stretches of the game in the second half. Utah lost the rebounding battle (33-30), but the rebounds in the second half were key to Utah keeping Oregon at bay.
Justin Bibbins emerging as a playmaker
He may be small, but he’s more than capable of leading Utah to a victory. Bibbins had 3 points in the first half and was essentially written off as an offensive facet to the team, but Bibbins came out with the hot hand in the second half and scored 16 points on 4-of-4 shooting from behind the perimeter.
Bibbins attacked the rim, found spacing behind the 3-point line and provided a much-needed offensive spark to jumpstart Utah. Krystkowiak has called Bibbins one of the most locked in players this season and it has shown as the season has progressed. The senior guard is unphased by poor shooting and continues to fight through the bad times.
Bibbins struggled against BYU a couple weeks ago — scoring only 3 points — but he’s been able to consistently score in double figures in Utah’s last six games. It’s also the second straight game that Bibbins has been the team’s leading scorer. He doesn’t need to be the team’s leading scorer to be effective, but it’s a great asset to have when it comes.
With Bibbins' help, Utah had its second best offensive efficiency at 121.9 points per 100 possessions. In their road losses, Utah had an offensive efficiency of 93.3, which is a drastic difference.
Bonus: Utah only had three turnovers on the night, which is a season low. That's an incredibly low number for a team that struggled early on with turnovers.