LAS VEGAS — For the fifth time in eight seasons, Utah was eliminated from the Pac-12 Tournament at the hands of the Oregon Ducks.
The curse remains for at least one more year.
Oregon shook off a poor-shooting performance in the first half to claim a 66-54 win in the quarterfinal round of the annual Pac-12 Tournament Thursday, upsetting No. 3 Utah. The Ducks only scored 18 points in the opening 20 minutes, but outscored the Utes 48-30 in the second half to advance to the semifinal round of the tournament.
The Ducks opened up the second half on a quick 6-0 run behind a full-court press that frustrated Utah and forced some early turnovers. Utah would ultimately weather the press, but it forced the Utes to speed up their offense as the team had less time to work through its sets. That would translate to a 31.3 second-half shooting percentage for the Utes.
“It's a little different when you're coming in — there's a thin line between wanting to be aggressive right when you break that press or trying to get into a set after burning nine or 10 seconds off the clock,” Utah senior Sedrick Barefield said. “So there's a thin line and I just don't think we found the right place for that tonight.”
The senior struggled to have an impact on the game after receiving his second foul with nine minutes into the first half, forcing him to sit the remainder of the period. Barefield would start the second half but struggled to establish a presence as Oregon limited his looks from three and shut down the post with a swarming interior defense.
Barefield finished the night with only 5 points on 2-of-12 shooting, including 1-of-9 from three. Utah would hit only two 3-pointers on the night and shot an unusually low 9 percent from deep due to Oregon loading up on the perimeter defense to eliminate Utah’s season strength.
"We contested most of their threes,” Oregon coach Dana Altman said. “We knew they were a good 3-point shooting team, but I think our length bothered them on most of their threes."
“I think their pressure got to us a little bit — sped us up a little bit,” Barefield added. “And then when we did have open looks we just didn't knock them down. There's no excuses.”
To Utah’s credit, though, they started out the game matching Oregon’s physicality to take control of the game, particularly in the post where junior Jayce Johnson returned from an ankle injury to limit easy Oregon buckets and to corral the ball to limit second-chance opportunities.
At the half, Utah held a 24-18 lead behind a solid 20-minute performance, particularly from sophomore Donnie Tillman who attacked the rim hard and finished the half with 12 points, including 5-of-6 from the free-throw line. Tillman would finish the game as the team’s leading scorer with 18 points on 4-of-12 shooting.
“Our guys played really hard,” Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak said. “I thought it was quite a defensive game, both ends, first half in particular.
“We scrapped and fought and it got away from us at the end,” he added. “But I thought that we came close to reaching our potential. It's obviously not the way you want to finish it, but I am proud of this group for staying connected and working really hard.
Oregon finished the night shooting 44 percent from the field behind Louis King and Payton Pritchard’s combined 40 points, most of which came in the second half. King finished the night with 20 points and seven rebounds, and Pritchard totaled 20 points, five assists and four rebounds in the win.
Oregon will face Arizona State in the semifinals Friday at 9:30 p.m. MDT.
Thursday’s game will likely be the last for Utah, whose only remaining option is an invite to the National Invitation Tournament. The Utes will wait until Sunday evening to know if they have anything more in the postseason, though it's unlikely. Should Utah fail to get an invite to the NIT, Utah will not pursue any other postseason tournaments, according to Krystkowiak.
“I'm very hopeful that it's not,” Barefield said, speaking about the potential of Thursday’s game being his last as a Ute. “I hope we get to play some more. But if it is, I mean, I've made lifelong friends and unforgettable experiences at the U. I know that I have a family up there in Salt Lake City forever. So for that, I'm eternally grateful for that.”