After fighting for a first round bye in their final regular season game, Utah wasted their opportunity to capitalize on their success, dropping their first game to the sixth seeded Oregon Ducks, 66-54. Utah’s postseason dreams now seem more dead than a rainbow trout floating in the Great Salt Lake.
As a unit, the Utes only mustered 34% from the floor on 53 attempted shots and a measly 8.7% from deep. Thankfully, Utah was able to find 16 points off free throws to pad the final score a bit, otherwise the abysmal performance would have look much worse. Donnie Tillman lead the offensive effort with 18 points, however nine of those were from the line, scoring only four baskets in the loss.
Holding Oregon to only 66 points deserves some credit, because as awful as the offense was, the defensive effort kept the Utes in the game until the closing minutes. In the first half, Jayce Johnson was aggressive and fiery in his first game back from an earlier injury, ending the night with 11 defensive rebounds and the only four blocks the team recorded, however the supporting cast around him wasn’t able to match his energy. By the end of the game, it was clear his 36 minutes on the floor were simply too much, and Utah’s lone center was too gassed to continue stopping the Ducks on his own.
Jumping out to an early lead was going to be critical for Utah to claim victory, and in the first half they did a good enough job of keeping pace with Dana Altman’s Ducks to get the job done, but after Altman and company adjusted their game plan before the second half, it was clear that Krystowiak intended to stay the course and failed to adapt to the Duck’s tempo. In his last two starts, it was clear that Novak Topalovic is no offensive threat, he did perform well on the defensive side of the ball, and his four minutes on the floor when the starters were failing to produce was a questionable decision. Allowing the senior some extra minutes to take the pressure off Jayce Johnson may have been effective and would have given the starting five a moment to collect themselves. In reality, poor coaching was the nail in Utah’s coffin.
To claim this game was anything other than ugly would be unfair, but Jayce Johnson earned his stripes, shooting 4 for 4 and commanding the defensive effort when no one else could (or would) and is an encouraging sign for next season. Unfortunately, next season’s potential doesn’t mean anything for a team that is likely to be sitting out of the post-season.