Utah searching for signature win against No. 10 Oregon
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) Utah is exceeding expectations after being picked to finish eighth in the Pac-12.
The Utes received their first vote in the AP Top 25 poll this week and sit fourth in the conference standings, behind No. 8 UCLA, No. 7 Arizona and No. 10 Oregon.
Utah, however, is still searching for that signature win to impress the NCAA Tournament committee, and it gets that chance Thursday when the Ducks (18-2, 7-0) travel to Salt Lake City.
Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak acknowledged that one of those types of wins would be a nice addition to the resume since the team is 0-4 against teams that are currently ranked.
''Well, sure, but that's not what we're thinking about,'' Krystkowiak said. ''You don't need any pressure, `Man, we need to win against a top 20 team.' You're thinking about the wrong stuff. How are we going to get that win? That's what we're focused on.
''We don't talk about it a whole lot. I think we all know that it'd be great to get one of these wins against a top team.''
The Utes (14-5, 5-2) began the season with a chip on their shoulders due to the low preseason prediction. The doubts were understandable considering Kyle Kuzma and Lorenzo Bonam were the only significant contributors returning from the 2016 NCAA Tournament team. The rest were unknowns.
They no longer are.
Utah has the No. 2 scoring offense (81.6 points per game) in the Pac-12 and has scored 82-plus points in the last five conference games.
Kuzma is one of four players in the league averaging a double-double (15.3 points, 10.0 rebounds). Five different players are averaging double figures and guards Bonam, freshman Devon Daniels and transfer Sedrick Barefield have given opposing backcourts fits. Transfer David Collette has developed into a consistent threat as the team's best low-post scorer, though he missed the last two games due to concussion symptoms and Krystkowiak wouldn't say if he's available for the Oregon game.
''They're a greatly improved team with the two transfers they added at Christmas time,'' Oregon coach Dana Altman said. ''They're deep, they're experienced. I like their team. ... They're well-coached. They don't take bad shots. Their ball movement is really good. They're doing some different things defensively than they have in the past.
''Utah (against UCLA) ... went right down to the wire. That (final) shot didn't go in. If it goes in, they're probably talked about a little more.''
The bottom line is that these Utes aren't the inexperienced unknowns from three months ago.
''We're beyond that (prediction),'' said Jayce Johnson, who backs up Collette in the post. ''I feel like it motivated us because we were told we weren't going to be that good.''
Oregon may be without leading scorer Dillon Brooks, who is dealing with a sprained left foot. Altman called him a game-time decision. The Ducks still have the No. 17 scoring defense (62.7 points) in the nation and have beat the Utes in 10 of the last 11 meetings dating back to 2012. Oregon is also riding a 16-game win streak with one of its two losses coming against No. 5 Baylor.
Krystkowiak knows the significance of this game - the second meeting with Oregon on Feb. 16 is the only other regular-season game against a team that's currently ranked. But he's keeping the emphasis to a minimum, relying on an entire season of preparation.
Krystkowiak explained that he rides his team hard all season long so they don't need to pick things up in these instances.
''It's kind of the reward when you come into a UCLA environment, an Oregon environment,'' Krystkowiak said. ''... When you walk out of that tunnel and you get to play those teams, you kind of smile, but it's not like you're nervous that we're trying to do something we're not capable of doing.''