By: Ian Sutliff
Eugene, OR–Utah and Oregon are both coming off impressive wins on Thursday, giving some life to each of their tournament hopes. In the first matchup between the two squads earlier this January, Oregon was in complete control in Salt Lake City, winning 70-60. Now the second matchup heads to Eugene where the story stays the same for the both teams: keep winning if it wants any shot at the tournament.
It’s been an up and down year for the Ducks with their tournament chances rocky at best right now. After avenging an almost 30 point loss against Colorado on Thursday, Oregon has a chance to sweep the season series against Utah, while improving to 14-9 on the season. It might be tough though with possibly no N’Faly Dante once again who dropped 17 points and had 12 rebounds in the first game against the Utes. Utah’s defense ranks 20th best in the country in terms of points per game and that’s always worrisome for an Oregon offense that has been very inconsistent the last two seasons. Senior Quincy Guerrier will once again need to step up for the Ducks on Saturday to help provide some size against a very good rebounding Utah team. Nate Bittle is also someone to watch if Dante isn’t ready in time after putting up a double double against the Buffaloes with 11 points and 13 rebounds.
With one of the best defenses in the nation, Utah is a team that can cause a team a lot of headaches offensively. It allows just 61.5 points per game which is second in the PAC-12 and with Branden Carlson down low, it is the sixth best team in the country on the defensive glass (29.2 RPG). Even after being the current second place team in the conference, many bracket projections exclude the Utes who are just a half game back of UCLA for first place. Going on the road and avenging an earlier loss to go nine games over .500 could definitely put Utah on the map and convince many that they belong in the NCAA tournament. Along with a great defensive rebounding team, the Utes also are the third best squad in the nation when it comes to opponent field goal (37.3%) and three point percentages (27.4%). This could be a massive advantage against an Oregon team that frequently goes cold from the field and could be without one of its best scorers. Gabe Madsen might be the most exciting player to watch for this Utah squad though as he leads the conference in three pointers made and averages 12.2 points per game.
Even though it was only weeks ago, Utah was a much different team when these clubs faced off for the first time. Now the Utes look like a real threat to win the regular season conference title and have won their last three games. Oregon has also looked really great lately except for its confusing loss in Palo Alto last week. With every game being a must win at this point for these two teams, it places a lot more pressure on a Ducks team that has a lot less leeway at this point in the season. Jermaine Couisnard will get hot and expect another solid start from Guerrier. Carlson could easily go for 20-25 points in this one with the possibility of Dante missing this one, but the Ducks will put up good numbers from beyond the arc once again to win a close one.
Oregon 68 – Utah 65