After enduring so much adversity throughout his five year career at Utah, senior center finally got his hard-fought, well-earned happy ending as his Utes pulled off a 72-62 win over No. 19 ranked Oregon Saturday. The win completes a sweep of the Oregon schools this week, and represents the first time Utah has won back-to-back conference games since joining the Pac-12.
The always emotional senior celebrated his happy ending with The MUSS and other Utah fans, by climbing up into the stands to thank them for their support.
"Those people in that section have been loyal to me and this program since I've been here, so it only seemed right that I be loyal back, It only seemed right that I give them their due credit and what they deserve," Washburn confided. "It still wasn't enough for the appreciation that I have for those people in that section, and fans in any other section that has ever been filled in the the Huntsman Center. I couldn't ask for a better [win]. You couldn't script it any better."
Utah's first double-digit win over a ranked team since 1998 put the Utes at 13-17, 5-13 on the year, and should help carry some momentum into the Pac-12 tournament where the Utes have talked about making a splash, and turning heads all season long.
Starting quickly, Utah jumped out to a 9-0 lead and never looked back as Oregon never tied, or held a lead from wire to wire as the Utes put another full game together after their first one, a 72-61 win over Oregon State last Thursday.
"[The start] was straight energy. We came out aggressive, came hard on defense and we didn't let them get rebounds. We pressured them, made shots and the crowd got into it," senior Cedric Martin attributed. "It was a combination of things, and it was all good. It all came out right."
The Jon M. Huntsman Center was electric even before tip, borrowing energy and emotion from the pre-game ceremony which honored Utah's out-going seniors Jason Washburn, David Foster, Cedric Martin and Jarred DuBois.
While Foster was obviously unable to play, each of the three participating seniors played exceptionally well. Washburn wrapped up his regular season career with a 20 point, 13 rebound, two steals, one assist and one block performance while DuBois came up big with 15 points, five rebounds, five assists and two steals.
Martin did what he always does Saturday, which is to play great defense, scrap for loose balls, take charges and assorted other difference makers that don't show up on stat sheets. On the stat sheet however, Martin contributed five points, three assists, one rebound and one block.
One of just two of his field goals all night, Martin hit a three-pointer which came at a pivotal time when Oregon went on a small run to close Utah's nine point gap, pulling to within one point at 11:27 in the first half. Up 21-20, Martin stepped up and nailed the long-range bomb, which sparked a Utah run that would result in a 44-30 Utah lead at halftime.
Utah was red hot from the floor all the way through the first to finish with a 65.5 percentage going into halftime, but was shooting 78.6 percent as late as the 12:07 mark.
Though shots were falling for the Utes, it was Utah's defense that made all the difference Saturday.
"That's what we hang our hat on. Our defense is what we've leaned on all year long," Washburn said. "For us to not have come out and played defense in our last game wouldn't have been right."
Somewhat over-shadowed by the seniors' big night, it was actually freshman Jordan Loveridge who carried the Utes early in the first half, who scored five of Utah's first seven points of the half and seven of their first fifteen points. It was Loveridge's first shot of the night, a three-pointer, inside the first minute that ignited the crowd, set the tone and that would be the catalyst for Utah's first half energy.
Loveridge would score nine of his 14 points in the first half, and finished the day with seven rebounds, three assists and three steals.
Utah held a nine point halftime lead last time out versus Oregon, and statistically, the odds said that Utah's first-half hot shooting would cool.
Logic held true, and the Utes came out flat to start the second and though Utah would score the first four points of the half to build a 17 point lead, Oregon would make a 10-2 run over the next five minutes and would cut Utah's lead back down to double digits by the 13:32 mark.
The half see-sawed back and forth, but ultimately Oregon would never get as close as eight points before Utah rebuilt its lead back to 16. Utah would hold on through the end of the game, finishing with a 10 point 72-62 margin.
Coming into the clashes with each of the Oregon schools this week, Utah focused heavily on a few key areas, especially rebounding. In their first meeting, Utah was out-rebounded by Oregon State 41-33 (-8) and by Oregon 41-19 (-22), so the heavy emphasis in practice this week was on the boards. Combined, the Oregon schools out-rebounded Utah by 30 in the two road losses.
Those numbers resulted in lopsided key statistics, especially in second-chance points where Oregon tallied 24 last time out against Utah, and Oregon State had 13, combining for 37 second-chance points.
The extra emphasis and scheming paid off, as Utah out-rebounded Oregon State 39-29 Thursday, and out-rebounded Oregon 31-28 Saturday in successive wins. Utah ultimately won the rebounding war this week, hitting a +13 mark against the Oregon schools combined.
"Last time we played Oregon, we got beat on the glass 41-19, so it didn't take a whole lot of motivation for our guys to know that's where it was going to happen," Krystkowiak stated. "We had three really good days of practice of just good, old-fashioned, smash-mouth basketball and getting down and playing hard. I thought that that really helped us in both of those wins this weekend."
With some of the key statistics in their favor, the Utes once again enjoyed a balanced offense Saturday, as four Utes scored in double figures for the second game in a row. Besides Washburn, DuBois and Loveridge, freshman point guard Brandon Taylor chipped in 14 points, and helped to carry the Utes in the second half after Loveridge cooled.
Utah also won other key statistical categories against the Ducks Saturday, scoring 34 points in the paint to Oregon's 21 and converting 15 Oregon turnovers into 21 points. Utah also had success offensively on the strength of 15 assists; always a key statistic for the Utes, and a 12-0 advantage in fast break points against an Oregon team who lives, and dies by the fast break, as evidenced Saturday.
Though that is the case, the Utah defense held the Oregon running game to just two fast break points last time out, and pitched a shut-out in that category Saturday.
"We've done a pretty good job [defending transition] on the season. We don't give many up. Our defensive strategy kind of starts when we shoot it, and we're not going to give up many transition baskets because we usually send three back to defend it," Krystkowiak explained. "I think the combination of playing really good defense, and a lot of it started with our offense. We shot 19-29 from the field in the first half, so there weren't many chances to take it off the glass and score."
Washburn, DuBois and Martin were all on the floor to end the game, and huddled up in the waning seconds. Post-game, Washburn and Martin revealed what went on in the impromptu half-court meeting.
"We just said that we loved each other, and that's it's not over yet. Let's not celebrate like this was our last game, or like we just won a championship. We really didn't do anything, we just won another game of basketball," Martin revealed. "The main focus of that huddle was for us to go in and play hard in the Pac-12 tournament and really show the fans that we're capable of competing with some of these teams."
Washburn reflected on his last moments on the floor of the Jon M. Huntsman Center.
"It was funny because the referee leaned over to me and whispered, 'Don't travel, because I'm going to have to call you for it.' But me, [DuBois and Martin] got together in the last seconds and I'm happy that those guys were with on my last game. I wouldn't have asked for anyone different in my last year," Washburn confided. "[DuBois] only had one year here, and I wouldn't have asked for anyone else