LAS VEGAS — Utah and Oregon. Oregon and Utah.
It’s the age-old matchup — at least in the Pac-12 Tournament since the league expanded in 2011. And it’s going to happen again Thursday at 9:30 p.m. MDT as the two teams once again meet in the quarterfinals of the conference tournament.
The matchup, at least historically, doesn’t favor Utah at all.
The Ducks, which come into Thursday night’s game as the lower-seeded opponent against the Utes, is favored by 5 points going into the game. But for Utah, it might as well be 100 points, as Oregon has never lost to Utah in the postseason tournament. In fact, four of Utah’s seven exits in the Pac-12 Tournament have come at the hands of Oregon.
All have been memorable in their own right.
There’s the breaking of Utah’s collective heart in 2015 when Joseph Young hit a half court 3-pointer at the buzzer in the semifinals to send the Ducks to the championship game. There’s the absolute dominant championship performance the next season where Utah got beat by 31 points.
And then there was last season, where Utah allowed a 10-2 Oregon run in the final 2 minutes to lose by 2 points. A Sedrick Barefield 3-pointer was off the mark and a game-tying layup was blocked at the end to seal the victory for Oregon … again.
There’s always a chance that streak could end Thursday night. But it will take a much different performance than what Utah presented Oregon in its only matchup of the season in January.
Utah jumped out to a quick 14-point lead over Oregon as they appeared ready to run away with the score. And then Oregon went to the full-court press to force 19 Utah turnovers. In the end, Oregon scored 29 points off of Utah’s multitude of errors and secured a 78-72 win.
But Utah is a different team than what Oregon saw in January, even if just marginally.
The team is playing together and sharing the ball to open up their league-leading 3-point shooting opportunities. And as of late, they have been turning the ball over less. They’re not perfect by any means as a No. 3 seed in the tournament, but they have several players that can get hot to turn the tide.
“They're a really good team — really good shooting team,” Oregon’s Ehab Amin said of Utah Wednesday night after routing Washington State in the opening round game. “They have a lot of shooters that can get hot. A couple of players can get 20-plus points.”
“They'll be a difficult challenge for us,” Oregon head coach Dana Altman said. “Offensively, they're a very gifted team — shooting a lot of threes, which will really stretch us out. And they'll be a little fresher than us.”
And while Utah has been a great shooting team from deep, especially in conference play where they’re shooting an incredible 47.1 percent from deep, it’s limiting turnovers that will be the key to the game Thursday night.
If Utah can limit its mistakes while maintaining a decent shooting percentage from three, the Oregon curse could potentially come to an end.