Saturday, January 04, 2014

The Oregon Schools -- Heartbreak and Brandon Taylor

Utah opened conference play at home against the Oregon schools.

Oregon 70 Utah 68 (overtime)

Before discussing the gut-wrenching way Utah lost this game, I commend Oregon for winning a tough game in a tough environment. Oregon played very well, especially on the defensive end. Utah only shot 16% on three point attempts. While Utah missed some shots it normally makes, Oregon's quickness had a lot to do with that. Oregon is so quick, Utah had to shoot a tad more quickly than normal. This took Utah out of its rhythm and contributed to Utah's shooting woes. I think once Utah adjusts to the speed of the game against conference opponents, the boys won't struggle quite so much.

Utah played well defensively. The Utes held Oregon to nearly 30 points below their average in regulation (and 20 points after overtime). Both teams missed shots. Both teams gave great effort. And in the end, Oregon made a play and won the game.

The key point of this game was when Utah went up by ten points with about 14 minutes to go after a Dakari Tucker three pointer. Utah had the momentum, the big crowd was going crazy, and it looked like Utah was in a position to put the game away. But Oregon came back. Oregon went on a 12-2 run by taking the ball to the basket. Ten of Oregon's 12 points during that key stretch were layups or free throws. Utah's inability to keep Oregon's guards out of the paint allowed Oregon to quiet the crowd and get the Ducks back in the game.

The Utes had a great chance to win the game at the end of regulation. Jordan Loveridge had a great look, but just couldn't put it down. The teams then exchanged points in overtime leading to the punch to the gut to end the game (and another good look by Jordan Loveridge).

One thing I used to always stress with my players was the small margin between winning and losing. Bachynski has been playing well, but I can not imagine that he was the first option on that in bounds play. The Utes had to find a way to get the ball in Delon Wright's hands so he could take the ball to the basket and either drive and shoot or drive and dish. It didn't happen and Utah lost an important conference game. The question I had after that game was how would the young Utes respond.

Utah 80 Oregon State 69

Well, Utah responded great after the tough loss against Oregon. Oregon State is a much different kind of team than Oregon. The Beavers are not nearly as quick as the Ducks and they are not good ball defenders. To mask some of their defensive deficiencies, OSU played a lot of half court trap and extended zones to try to get Utah out of their offense. After a couple of series, Utah figured it out and really took it to Oregon State. Utah had a lot of open looks and got into a great rhythm offensively. But to Oregon State's credit, the Beavers didn't give up. Oregon State stuck with its game plan and got the game back to single digits by half time.

OSU made a couple of runs in the second half. The Beavers cut it to three two minutes into the second half. But Utah responded with an 8-2 run. After Utah went up 61-49, Oregon State made one last run. The Beavers went on an 11-2 run to get within three once again. And then Brandon Taylor took over. The young guard made a tough jumper to just beat the shot clock and then came back with a confident three point shot about two feet behind the line. After Jeremy Olsen made a little hook shot in the lane to put Utah up 10, the game was all but over.

Big Picture

There are no moral victories and I don't think Utah felt like the loss against Oregon was a victory in any way. But what I learned about Utah is that the Utes expected to beat Oregon. And when they didn't, they didn't put their heads down. They went to practice the next day and then beat an opponent that they should have beaten.

So after week one in conference play, Utah has shown that it will be a tough out (especially at home) against every team in the league except maybe Arizona. I think Utah is capable of making some noise in conference play. But the Utes are young and have little experience playing on the road. The last couple of seasons, I wondered whether Utah had the talent and the mental toughness to win close games. This season, I don't have any question about Utah's ability to win games. Jordan Loveridge, Delon Wright, and Brandon Taylor are all leaders and are all capable of hitting shots when the games tighten up. Utah also has plenty of solid role players to play off those three. And Utah plays solid defense and it rebounds well. Utah is a good team.

The question I have about this team right now is whether it can play consistently well. And whether it can play consistently well on the road. To get to nine or ten conference wins, Utah will have to win a few road games and it will have to beat some elite teams. Utah is young and it may not be ready to be an NCAA Tournament team. But if it continues to learn from its mistakes, if it can play as consistently on the road as it has been playing at home, and if it can make a little run in the conference tournament like it did last year (a lot of ifs, I know), then we may see Utah get an NCAA tournament bid. And if Utah does that, it will be a monumental achievement in light of where Utah has been. The process is working. We'll have to see if the results are ahead of schedule. Go Utes!!

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