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Utah made a statement — and exorcised an unwanted streak — by beating Oregon in a thriller

Deivon Smith nearly posted another triple-double as a team effort carried the Runnin’ Utes to victory over the Ducks and tightened up the top of the Pac-12 standings

SHARE Utah made a statement — and exorcised an unwanted streak — by beating Oregon in a thriller
Utah Utes guard, Deivon Smith (5) jumps for a basket against Oregon Ducks guard, Jermaine Couisnard (5) and guard Jackson Shelstad (3) at the Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City on Jan. 21, 2024. The Utes won 80-77.

Utah Utes guard, Deivon Smith (5) jumps for a basket against Oregon Ducks guard, Jermaine Couisnard (5) and guard Jackson Shelstad (3) at the Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City on Jan. 21, 2024. The Utes won 80-77.

Marielle Scott, Deseret News

The roar emanating from Utah’s locker room a little more than 10 minutes after 3 p.m. MST on Sunday at the Huntsman Center could be heard loud and clear — perhaps even all the way back to Eugene.

There was an excellent reason for it — the Runnin’ Utes had broken an 11-game losing streak against Oregon with a thrilling 80-77 win.

Throw in the fact the Ducks entered the contest with a Pac-12 leading 5-1 conference record, and it’s obvious why there was plenty of emotion coming from the Utes’ side of things.

“Everybody was here this morning at 8 a.m. super focused and locked in. We take everything serious and we’re ready to take the next step forward.” — Utah guard Deivon Smith

“I thought we were super connected all night. We just had a great look to us,” Utah head coach Craig Smith said. “There was never any doubt, there was just a connectivity and a spirit and a look to us.”

He added that when Utah showed up at 8:15 a.m. for the 1 p.m. tip, there wasn’t a sleepy eye in the group.

“We came in here and we were ready to roll and I thought we had that look and demeanor all day,” Smith said.

Now, four weeks into league play, Utah (14-5, 5-3 Pac-12) finds itself just a half-game out of first place in a competitive conference race and building momentum, something it will need heading on the road for two games this week and with two starters ailing.

Sunday’s matchup won’t soon be forgotten around Salt Lake City — not after the Utes notched a long-awaited victory while down starters Rollie Worster and Lawson Lovering again, thanks to injury.

“They’ve had our number, clearly. But I loved the look our guys had this week,” Smith said.

“... We’ve had to kind of redefine some things and play a little different, but we just had a great look and a great mentality and took care of business the other night (beating Oregon State), and tonight we just found a way to win.”

Utah hadn’t beaten Oregon since 2017, and the Utes could have folded when they fell behind 67-63 with 4:51 remaining on Jermaine Couisnard’s sixth 3-pointer of the game.

They didn’t.

Deivon Smith and his cast of teammates wouldn’t allow it.

Thirty seconds after that Couisnard 3, Smith answered with his own. On Utah’s next possession, he again hit from 3-point range, giving the Utes a 69-67 lead they wouldn’t relinquish down the stretch.

With two minutes left, Smith ended a personal 9-0 run that put Utah ahead 72-67.

There were still plenty of tense moments to come, but the Utes were up to the challenge against the Ducks (13-5, 5-2 Pac-12).

After Couisnard’s final 3-pointer of the night — he finished with a game-high 26 points — Smith countered with a layup that put Utah ahead 76-73.

Ducks center N’Faly Dante, who had a hard-earned 23 points, 10 rebounds and six assists in his third game back from his own injury, made it a one-point game again on a layup with 28 seconds left.

The door then opened for Oregon to tie or take the lead when Smith missed the front end of a one-and-one with 27 seconds remaining.

Dante missed a game-tying chance with 8 seconds remaining, though, and Cole Bajema coolly sank two free throws to make it 78-75.

Utah fouled Keeshawn Barthelemy with 5 seconds remaining, and he made the first but missed the second. Dante grabbed the rebound and was fouled, giving the 6-foot-11 post player the chance to inexplicably tie the game.

Dante missed the first free throw, though, and made the second, leaving it at a one-point contest. Bajema again sank two free throws with 1.2 seconds left to wrap up the Utah win.

Exhale.

“Loved the resiliency,” Utah’s head coach said. “We made some plays late, executed at the very end except for the free-throw box out and found a way to win at home. So at the end of the day, it’s a great win for us.”

For Smith, the night nearly ended in a triple-double for the second time in a week. He finished with 24 points — his highest point total as a Ute — while also putting up nine rebounds and nine assists. 

Smith, who hit a half court buzzer beater at the end of the first half to make it 33-32 at intermission, joked there will have to be a recount of his stats to find some way to secure another triple-double after he accomplished that feat at Stanford last Sunday.

“It’s been a crazy season, you know, just with the waiver and stuff like that,” Smith said. “My coaching staff and my team, just the work we’ve put in, the work I’ve put in, it’s all showing up as a group. So I’m super happy right now.”

The game was special in another way for Smith — his mother was there, seeing him play as a Ute in person for the first time.

“That’s my best friend, so just having her here and just to be able to watch me for the first time, new location, new everything, I think it was just super great,” he said. “She even said she enjoyed the fans and all the people here. It’s just a great environment for both of us to be in.”

There was no shortage of key performances for Utah in topping the Ducks, among them fifth-year senior Branden Carlson finally besting Oregon by scoring 12 points and adding three rebounds and two assists while taking his share of shifts guarding Dante.

“The last time we won (against Oregon) was the year before I got here. So it’s good to get back on top here, last season of playing them in the Pac-12,” Carlson said. “It just shows that this team’s really capable of being mentally present and focused for these games. And I thought our team had great preparation leading up to this.”

Bajema had 13 points — he was one of five Utes in double-figures — and added nine rebounds, two blocks and an assist.

Ben Carlson made a career-high four 3-pointers, giving Utah some much-needed momentum and offensive support at critical junctures. 

Utah-Oregon takeaways

Key takeaways


Top performers: Deivon Smith nearly had another triple-double with 24 points, nine assists and nine rebounds, while Cole Bajema added 13 points, nine rebounds and two blocks.

Jermaine Couisnard led Oregon with a game-high 26 points, while Dante added 23 points, 10 rebounds and six assists.

Key stretch: After Oregon built a 67-63 lead on a 3-pointer with 4:51 to play, Smith went to work and hit 3-pointers on back-to-back possessions. He ended a personal 9-0 run to put the Utes up five going into the final two minutes, and Utah never trailed again.

Shooting: After shooting just 34.5% in the first half, the Utes shot 68% from the field in the second half and 50% overall. Oregon shot 44.6% for the game.

6 of 7: The Utes made 6 of their final shots from the floor.

5: Oregon’s first five field goals were all 3-pointers, including two each for Couisnard and Brennan Rigsby. The Ducks made seven 3-pointers in the first half and 12 in the game, with Couisnard making seven.

15: The teams combined for 15 turnovers in the first half — eight from Oregon, seven from Utah. The Utes ended up with 14 turnovers to eight for the Ducks, and Oregon had a 15-5 edge in points off turnovers.

4: Ben Carlson hit a career-high four 3-pointers for the Utes.

He also helped defend the athletic Dante in a game where Keba Keita (who had 12 points, two rebounds and a block) found himself in foul trouble much of the game and fouled out in the final seconds.

“He had a great night. Ben stepped up in a big way. We’re real proud of him and he’s put in a lot of work in and it continues to show off for him.” Branden Carlson said of Ben Carlson.

Enough of the individual accolades, though: this was a team win.

Utah overcame 14 turnovers that led to 15 Oregon points, while the Utes turned eight Ducks turnovers into seven points. Even then, Utah’s coach lauded his team for taking care of the ball late — the Utes didn’t have a turnover in the final 5:55 of the contest.

The Utes also shook off shooting 34.5% in the first half and made 68% of their field goals after halftime, finishing 50% for the afternoon while holding Oregon to 44.6%.

Utah found ways to overcome any obstacle thrown its way Sunday, en route to staying unbeaten at home this season.

“Everybody was here this morning at 8 a.m. super focused and locked in. We take everything serious and we’re ready to take the next step forward,” Deivon Smith said.

Utah, which has had its share of poor free-throw games recently, made 15 of 22, none more important than Bajema’s four in the final 10 seconds.

Utah’s coach was especially impressed with Utah’s ability to get to the line. The Utes ended up with eight more points from the free-throw line than Oregon, who made 7 of 11.

“What I’m excited the most about, we got fouled. I thought we got aggressive to the rim and we’re in attack mode. And then down the stretch, we made them when they counted,” Craig Smith said.

“You’ve got to finish teams off. You’ve got to be able to make those free throws.”

Yes, there’s time to celebrate.

With a game in just three days to kick off a road trip, though, it’s also back to work.

“We’ve got to play with more gusto and fight,” said Smith, whose team is 0-3 on the road so far in Pac-12 play. “We’ve just got to be better. When we have been on the road, we have not eliminated losing.”

What’s next

The Utes hit the road for their next two games against teams they faced to start Pac-12 play.

Utah will play at Washington State on Wednesday (8 p.m. MST, Pac-12 Network) and at Washington on Saturday (8 p.m., ESPN2).

Both teams are coming off a close loss — the Cougars fell at California, while the Huskies lost at Stanford.