The 19th-ranked Oregon Ducks set their sights on at least a share of the Pac-12 title, as they close out the regular season with a showdown with the Utah Utes on Saturday at the Huntsman Center.
Dana Altman's Ducks had a golden opportunity to earn at least a share of that conference crown on Thursday, but faltered in Boulder, dropping a 76-53 lopsided decision to the Colorado Buffaloes. The loss dropped Oregon into a first-place tie with UCLA at 12-5 in league play with just one game left on the docket.
Larry Krystkowiak's Utes have long been out of the conference race, as they hover just over the conference cellar with an ugly 4-13 record. Overall, Utah is five games under .500 (12-17), but was able to end a four-game skein with Thursday's 72-61 home win against Oregon State.
Oregon has won the last three meetings to take a 10-8 series advantage against Utah. The Ducks are seeking the regular-season sweep after recording a 73-64 win in Eugene on Feb. 9.
The Ducks were ice cold from the floor in the first half (.269) and trailed Colorado by 16 points at the break. Things got better for Oregon in the second half offensively, but the Buffaloes were actually able to increase their lead and finally post a 23-point win. No one really stood out for Oregon in terms of scoring, as Arsalan Kazemi, Johnathan Loyd and Ben Carter shared the team- lead with 10 points each in the loss.
Oregon has risen to the top of the conference standings with solid defensive play this season. The Ducks are limiting foes to just 63.3 ppg on a mere .48 shooting. Offensively, the team shoots .449 overall, while putting up 71.8 ppg. E.J. Singler helps the team in a number of areas. The 6-foot-8 senior tops the team in scoring (11.2 ppg), 3-pointers made (40) and assists (88). Carlos Emory (11.1 ppg) and Damyean Dotson (10.8 ppg) round out the top scorers on the roster. Dominic Artis (9.6 ppg) has recently returned from injury to bolster the play in the backcourt, while Kazemi (9.5 ppg, 9.8 rpg) provides the team with an interior presence.
The Utes shot 50 percent from the floor in the second half and were able to distance themselves from the Beavers as a result, taking an 11-point victory on Thursday night. Four of the team's five starters finished in double figures in a balanced effort, led by Jordan Loveridge, who recorded a double-double with 17 points and 12 rebounds. Jarred DuBois and Jason Washburn netted 15 points each in the win, while Brandon Taylor chipped in with 12 points.
Scoring points in bunches is not the norm in Salt Lake City this season, as Utah is averaging just 63.9 ppg on a modest .440 shooting. The team has put forth a much more consistent effort on the defensive end, with foes averaging just 62.9 ppg on under 40 percent shooting (.396). DuBois has been the leader at the offensive end, averaging 12.1 ppg. He has converted more free throws (107) than any other teammate has even attempted. Loveridge (11.8 ppg, 6.9 rpg) and Washburn (11.5 ppg, 6.6 rpg) have been solid as well. The scoring pool dries up fast after that though, with no other Ute scoring more than 6.2 ppg.