SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Trailing by 10 points at halftime, No. 17 Oregon picked up its intensity in the second half and rallied to avoid an upset bid by Utah.
Chris Duarte scored 25 points and Eric Williams Jr. added 19 to lift the Ducks to a 79-73 victory over the Utes on Saturday night.
LJ Figueroa scored 15 points for Oregon (9-2, 4-1 Pac-12) before exiting late in the second half with a left ankle injury. Amauri Hardy added 13. Oregon beat Utah for the 18th time in the last 20 games between the two schools.
The latest win for the Ducks in the series boiled down to hard-nosed defense. Oregon forced 18 turnovers and scored 25 points off those turnovers. The Ducks tallied 10 steals.
“We just stayed active,” Duarte said.
Timmy Allen scored 23 points and Mikael Jantunen added a career-high 20 points to lead the Utes (4-4, 1-3). Pelle Larsson had 15 points, five rebounds, and five assists before fouling out in the final minute.
Utah shot 57% from the field but sputtered down the stretch after struggling to hold onto the ball.
The Utes’ last chance to pull an upset came when Riley Battin buried a 3-pointer to cut Oregon’s lead to 70-68 with 1:40 left. Chandler Lawson answered with a layup on the other end and the Ducks made seven free throws in the final minute to close out a hard-fought win.
“The ball was moving, we were clicking,” Allen said. “They picked up the pressure in the second half and took us out of our rhythm a little bit.”
Utah executed flawlessly on offense for large stretches of the first half. The Utes used a combination of great ball movement, precision passing, and accurate shooting to keep Oregon on its heels.
The Utes made 10 consecutive shots over the final 6 1/2 minutes before halftime to carve out a 10-point lead on the Ducks. As a team, Utah shot 67% from the floor during the first half and recorded 13 assists on 18 baskets.
“That first half defensive effort was unacceptable,” Oregon coach Dana Altman said. “I can’t put it any other way.”
Allen supplied the biggest spark, totaling 17 points on 8-of-10 shooting in the first half. After Oregon went up 25-22 on a 3-pointer from Duarte, the Utes did not miss another field goal attempt before halftime. Allen scored three straight layups to light a fire under the rest of his team. He totaled five baskets during a 21-8 run over the final 5:20 of the first half that helped Utah take a 43-33 lead.
“He’s the head of our snake,” Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak said. “It’s a shame we couldn’t celebrate his birthday with a win.”
Oregon opened the second half by scoring baskets off three consecutive Utah turnovers. It helped the Ducks quickly erase the double-digit halftime deficit. Oregon finally climbed back ahead following a 3-point play from Hardy for a 50-48 lead.
“We needed a good start to the half after finishing the first half so poorly,” Altman said. “We needed something good to get our heads up and get guys on the same page.”
What changed after halftime for the Ducks, Duarte said, is they focused on defending much more aggressively on each possession.
“We were not playing hard,” Duarte said. “That’s it. We were not playing hard.”
THE BIG PICTURE
Oregon: The Ducks overcame hot shooting from Utah by forcing a flurry of turnovers and avoided going 0-2 on their Rocky Mountain road trip.
Utah: The Utes cooked on offense in the first half. They ran out of steam down the stretch after making too many mistakes on critical possessions.
Allen became the 40th player for Utah to score 1,000 career points and the 21st to reach that mark during his junior season. He now has 1,015 career points in his third season with the Utes after Saturday’s game.
“It’s cool,” Allen said. “I put my heart into it, so it’s good to see a reward. Cool little milestone but I have a lot to do.”
Oregon’s leading scorer Eugene Omoruyi did not score after going 0-of-7 from the field in 19 minutes. It marked a rare down performance for the junior, who averaged 18.6 points per game going into Saturday’s contest. Omoruyi had scored in double figures in every game this season before getting shut out by the Utes.
Altman said that dizziness limited Omoruyi and kept him from finding a rhythm. He tried to press through it, but finally headed to the Oregon bench for good for the final 11 minutes of the second half. Omoruyi battled similar issues at Colorado earlier in the week.
He has not tested positive for COVID-19, so the Ducks aren’t sure what was afflicting him during the two-game road swing.
“Eugene did not feel well,” Altman said. “I don’t know if it was the altitude. I don’t know what it was.”
Oregon hosts Arizona State on Thursday.
Utah hosts Colorado on Monday.
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