No. 16 Utah was sleepwalking through the first two quarters against Oregon on Friday night, just days after the Utes pulled off a pair of home wins over top 10 opponents UCLA and USC.
The Ducks went into halftime leading the Utes 29-21, and the visitors at Matthew Knight Arena in Eugene, Oregon, were ripe for an upset if they couldn’t find some offense and post defense.
Fortunately for Lynne Roberts’ squad, Utah found more of both in the second half to rally for a 58-48 victory.
“Credit to Oregon for fighting. It was an off night for us, and we found a way to win. I’m proud of our team for that.” — Utah coach Lynne Roberts
“That was as poor of a shooting first half as I can remember. I felt like we came out playing not to lose. You can’t do that in this league,” Roberts told 700 AM in her postgame radio interview.
“Credit to Oregon for fighting. It was an off night for us, and we found a way to win. I’m proud of our team for that.”
Alissa Pili scored all 16 of her points in the second half after playing just nine minutes before intermission due to foul trouble. She also had eight rebounds.
Maty Wilke came up big, too, scoring 11 points and hitting three 3-pointers.
Eight of her points came in the first half, when points were at a premium for a Utah squad that shot just 25% from the field and 20% from 3-point range in the opening two quarters.
A 12-0 run midway through the third quarter proved to be the decisive moment for Utah.
The Utes trailed 33-29 just over four minutes into the third quarter when Pili started the run with her first bucket of the night at the 5:34 mark of the third.
Wilke and Jenna Johnson, who had a double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds, both added 3-pointers as part of the 12-0 run, while Pili scored again on a jumper and Ines Vieira notched a steal and score.
Key stretch: The Utes went on a 12-0 run in the third quarter to take their first lead of the game and then maintained that edge though the remainder of the contest.
Top performers: Alissa Pili shook off a scoreless first half — she played just nine minutes due to foul trouble — and finished with 16 points and eight rebounds, while Wilke had 11 points, including 8 in the first half to keep Utah within striking distance.
Phillipina Kyei finished with 19 points and 16 rebounds for an Oregon team missing leading scorer Grace VanSlooten.
First-half shooting: The Utes shot just 25% in the first half and 20% from 3, while Oregon shot 40% from the field.
Second-half shooting: Utah improved to 45.2% in the second half, including 40% from 3, while holding the Ducks to 27.3%.
For the game, Utah shot 34.9% to 34% for Oregon.
Turnovers: Utah turned 15 Oregon turnovers into 11 points, while the Ducks turned nine Utes turnovers into six points. Ines Vieira had a career-high seven steals.
Utah made 4 of 7 3-pointers in the third quarter, including 3s from Dasia Young and Kennady McQueen to start the period, as the Utes outscored the Ducks 22-7 in the quarter.
Oregon did not go away. Chance Gray’s 3 with 3:38 to play made it 51-48.
Turns out, that would be the Ducks’ final points of the night, as Utah’s defense tightened up in the second half.
Pili answered Gray’s 3 with an inside shot to put the Utes back up five, ending an almost three-minute scoring drought for Utah.
Pili then capped an excellent offensive possession with a short jumper in the lane to push the lead back out to seven.
Utah’s star forward scored 12 of her points in the final quarter, matching Oregon’s 12 fourth-quarter points by herself.
The Ducks’ defense ended up leaving Utah with open midrange jumpers, not typically a highly utilized part of Utah’s offense, but the Utes began to knock those down as the game wore on.
“We practice those shots, we do those every day. That’s what I said at halftime, we’ve got to take what the defense is giving us,” Roberts said. “If they’re going to give us those 15-foot pull-ups, we’ve got to take them and knock them down, and that’s what we did.”
That helped Utah overcome a poor start — the Utes trailed 13-7 after one quarter and didn’t hit a 3-pointer until Wilke knocked one down with 27 seconds remaining in the opening quarter.
Utah shot 3 of 15 in the first period — the Utes missed nine of their first 10 shots — and made just 1 of 10 from 3-point range, while turning the ball over three times.
Pili picked up her second foul just 44 seconds into the second quarter, and it took Utah until the 5:43 mark in the second period to get to 10 points, when Wilke made her second 3-pointer.
Vieira, who had a career-high seven steals, quickly added her own 3-pointer, and combined with a Johnson 3 less than a minute later, the Utes finally started to crack the rim open a bit.
With Oregon leading scorer Grace VanSlooten in concussion protocol, the Ducks followed the lead of 6-foot-8 Phillipina Kyei in the first half.
She finished the first two quarters with 14 points and 10 rebounds, as the Ducks shot 40% to build the eight-point halftime lead.
In the second half, though, the Utes tightened up defensively. Kyei finished with 19 points and 16 rebounds, and the Ducks were held to just 27.3% shooting after halftime.
Utah ended up with 13 steals to two for Oregon, and the Utes turned 15 Ducks turnovers into 11 points. Oregon turned nine Utes turnovers into six points.
The Utes also had an 11-2 edge in second-chance points and 8-0 advantage in fast break points.
It wasn’t always pretty, but it was a fourth straight win for the 1,000th victory in Utah program history.
“Coming off a big weekend, it was almost like a little bit of a hangover game. Sometimes that happens,” Roberts said.
The Utes (15-5, 5-3 Pac-12) will stay in the Pacific Northwest and play at No. 25 Oregon State on Sunday (1 p.m. MST, Pac-12 Network).
The Beavers knocked off No. 3 Colorado 68-62 in Corvallis, Oregon, on Friday.
Utah will stay on the road next week as well, with a two-game road swing at Washington and Washington State.