Oregon has won or shared the last three Pac-12regular-season championships and is now eyeing a fourth with a retooled roster.That pursuit begins Friday night when the Ducks tip off conference play with ahome game against Utah.
In compiling a 10-3 record, Oregon issurrendering 70.9 points per game and limiting the opposition to 38.5-percentshooting from the field – a mark that tops the Pac-12. But the Ducks allowed 84and 82 points in two of their last three wins, and that’s had the team’sattention over the nine days it had to prepare for the conference opener. “Ithink we did a lot of things well, but we also need to work on a lot ofthings,” Oregon sophomore wing Keith Smith told reporters following a 96-82 winover Central Arkansas on Dec. 20. “They outscored us in the second half, andthat’s not good enough. And we let them get 80 points – that’s not going toslide in conference.” Utah, meanwhile, also will have had nine days since itslast game, but the end of the nonconference season was more uneven as theRunnin’ Utes are 3-2 in December with double-digit road losses to Butler(81-69) and BYU (77-65).
TV: 10 p.m. ET, FS1
ABOUT UTAH (8-3, 0-0 Pac-12): Opening conferenceplay with the two-game Oregon swing poses a challenge for the Utes, who are 2-3in road/neutral-site games so far and have had an average margin of defeat of17 points in their three biggest tests – losses to UNLV (85-58), Butler andBYU. Four of the team’s five starters and sixth man Donnie Tillman (10.7 pointsper game) are averaging double figures, led by forwards David Collette (13.5)and Tyler Rawson (11.6) and guard Justin Bibbins (12.1). Rawson (6.5 boards)and Tillman (6.2) are the leading rebounders for Utah, which is pacing theconference in scoring defense (67.9 points) and 3-point percentage defense(29.1).
ABOUT OREGON (10-3, 0-0): Only fourth-ranked andundefeated Arizona State, with 91.8 points per game, is scoring at a higherrate than the Ducks’ 85.3 average in the conference, and seven Oregon playersare producing at least 8.3 points per outing. Point guard Payton Pritchard, theonly returning starter from the Ducks’ Final Four squad a year ago, is leadingthe way with 16.3 points and 4.6 assists per outing while backcourt mate ElijahBrown is contributing 13.3 points and freshman forward Troy Brown is averaging11.8 points and a team-best 7.8 rebounds. The Ducks have been so-so from longrange, hitting 37.7 percent of their 3-point attempts, but they lead theconference with a plus-8.1 average rebound margin and are second with a 1.3assist-to-turnover ratio.
1. Oregon leads the series 19-9 and has won ninestraight after 73-67 and 79-61 wins a year ago.
2. Controlling the glass will be key as both theDucks (10-0) and Utes (6-0) are undefeated when outrebounding the oppositionand a combined 2-6 when they don’t.
3. Oregon 6-foor-9 freshman F Kenny Wooten leads thePac-12 and ranks 10th nationally with 3.15 blocked shots per game.
PREDICTION: Oregon 75, Utah 70