NASHVILLE — It probably hadn't happened in six years, not since a last-second Utah victory over New Mexico in the WAC Tournament in 1997. But it happened Friday afternoon
Rick Majerus went airborne.
Shortly after the final buzzer sounded in Utah's 60-58 NCAA upset victory over Oregon at the Gaylord Entertainment Center, the rotund Ute coach put his right fist in the air and jumped a couple of times in celebration. While it may have only been a half inch off the floor, his leap attracted the notice of his players.
"He jumped — I didn't know he could jump," exclaimed freshman Tim Drisdom.
"It feels really great to win when you see coach over there jumping up and down," said freshman Bryant Markson, who played a key role in the victory. "I saw him leave the floor."
It's no wonder Majerus was so excited about his ninth opening-round NCAA win in 14 years at Utah, because this one had to be the most unlikely.
Not only did the Utes defeat the Pac-10 tournament champion Ducks without their senior leader Britton Johnsen, but they did it with three players on the bench with five fouls in the final minutes. Down the stretch they were down to six scholarship players and had to play with a lineup of three freshmen and no players taller than 6-foot-6 on the floor. Plus they shot a horrid 29 percent from the field.
Still, they found a way to win as Nick Jacobson sank two foul shots with 14.4 seconds left and then the Ute defense withstood two 3-point attempts by Oregon's James Davis in the final five seconds.
"I credit the players," said Majerus. "The players did a great job of hanging in there. We had lineups we've never played, necessitated by the absence of Britton and the foul trouble. It may have looked at times like we were unorganized and indeed we were. But we weren't unorganized relative to our effort and I think that's what pulled us through at the end."
Jacobson led the Utes with 23 points and Mark Jackson scored 13 points, all in the first half, before fouling out. Perhaps the key to the win was the Utes' defense on Luke Ridnour. The Pac-10 Player of the Year was held without a field goal the first 27 minutes of the game and he finished well below his average with 13 points on 3 of 13 shooting.
Next up for the Utes is old nemesis Kentucky, the No. 1-ranked team in the country, which advanced with a 95-64 win over IUPUI. The Utes and Wildcats tip off at 3 p.m. MST Sunday.
After leading most of the game, the Utes looked to be on the wrong side of Oregon's momentum when the Ducks came back from a nine-point deficit with nine minutes left to forge a 56-56 tie with less than three minutes to go.
The Utes took the lead on two Markson free throws, but the Ducks tied it when freshman Ian Crosswhite made one of two free throws with 2:13 left and one of two with 46 seconds left.
After a timeout, the Utes worked the ball around, trying for a play to get Jacobson a shot on the baseline. It didn't work, so with five seconds on the shot clock, Drisdom looked for a shot from the top of the key, only to see two Ducks come at him.
"I saw Nick coming off a pick and my job is to get it to the best shooter in the arena," said Drisdom.
Drisdom hit Jacobson, who was wide open from the right angle a couple of feet behind the arc. However, just after letting it go, Jacobson was knocked to the floor by Ridnour.
"They had a miscommunication on the switch and (Ridnour) panicked and lunged at me," said Jacobson.
With three foul shots, Jacobson had a chance to assure the Utes of overtime, but he missed the first one. He said he wasn't thinking about a late-season loss to Colorado State when he missed two key foul shots near the end, but acknowledged it was hard to concentrate.
"It's really a strange situation to be in, consciously trying to keep your mind blank," he said. "But there's obviously the feeling of the impact of the free throws. It's hard to say I wasn't nervous about it."
Jacobson sank the second one and, after a timeout, sank the third. "All three felt good, including the first one," he said.
The Utes dropped back into a triangle-and-two defense with Drisdom on Ridnour and the 6-6 Markson on the 5-10 Davis, the team's top 3-point shooter (44 percent).
Ridnour drove down the middle, as he had for most of the final 10 minutes of the game when the Ducks cleared out for him and let him create, but passed out to Davis on the left wing. With five seconds left, Davis let fly with a three. The ball bounced high off the iron and was tipped back out to Davis. By now there were just two seconds left and he tried another three, but it bounced away and Markson corralled the rebound as the Utes celebrated.
Later Markson revealed that he got a hand on both shots.
"I tipped it and he shot it again and I tipped that one," said Markson. "I don't know how the ball got to the rim."
"We had two good looks at it," said Oregon coach Ernie Kent. "We just didn't get it done."
The Utes shot poorly right from the start as they fell behind 9-0 and missed their first nine shots of the game. Jacobson made a three and Jackson a rare four-point play after being fouled on a 3-pointer and the Utes took the lead at 17-16 and led at halftime 30-27.
Utah pushed the lead to nine points on a couple of occasions, before the Ducks came back as Ridnour finally got in gear. On defense, the Ducks went to a halfcourt trap and it rattled the Utes into some turnovers. But they started a little too late.
"Looking back, we probably would have liked to press them a little more, but that's just the way it goes," said Luke Jackson, who led Oregon with 14 points. "It was tough because we just couldn't get into transition due to their style of play."P>