With 1:16 remaining in Thursday night’s game, Oregon found itself in a very familiar situation. The Ducks were leading by 10, 74-64 — the sixth time in conference play they’ve been in front in the final minute. Of those six games, the Ducks were 3-3, suffering late-game collapses in all three losses.
When Utah cut the deficit to four, 76-72 with 20 seconds left, Duck fans everywhere started to panic. The only people not panicking were the players themselves. Following a foul, Payton Pritchard sunk two free throws and Oregon (13-8, 4-4 Pac-12) got a stop on the next possession, securing the 78-72 win in a much-needed victory.
"This was huge for us to get this one on the road, especially after we gave a couple away at home," Oregon’s Ehab Amin said.
Amin finished the game with 13 points (all in the second half), knocking down 2-of-3 from beyond the arc to pace the Ducks offensively after the break.
But the real star was Oregon freshman point guard Will Richardson.
Richardson replaced Victor Bailey Jr. in the starting lineup two games, moving Pritchard to the off-guard position, and has run away with his newfound identity. Richardson scored a career-high 19 points on 8-of-12 shooting, adding five rebounds and two assists with zero turnovers.
"He was just really aggressive," Oregon head coach Dana Altman said. “He got in the paint and really looked to drive through the zone to the hole.”
"That was huge for us," Amin added of Richardson. “Everybody is embracing him taking charge and having the ball in his hands, scoring and making plays for the rest of us."
Early in the game, it didn’t look as if things were going to go Oregon’s way.
With Louis King getting into foul trouble and the Ducks struggling offensively, Utah (11-9, 5-3 Pac-12) raced out to a 26-12 lead midway through the first half.
But as they’ve done all season, the Ducks didn’t panic and slowly chipped away using their press defense.
Over the final 10 minutes of the half, Oregon went on a 26-8 as it forced 10 Utah turnovers in the process. Because of this, the Ducks were able to get out and run, ending the half up 38-34.
"The first 12 minutes of the game were awesome — our defense was fantastic to start the game, Oregon didn't score, and they didn't press either," Utah head coach Larry Krystkowiak said. "Then, all of a sudden in the first-half, they scored 19 points off of turnovers, which sucked a lot of life out of the building."
Both teams went back and forth following the break — a Donnie Tillman (16 points off the bench) cut Oregon’s lead to 46-44. But the Ducks responded with a quick 9-0 run as Amin capped it off with a three-pointer from the corner.
From there, Oregon was comfortable to keep the double-digit lead until the final minute, when the drama ensued. But unlike the past, the veteran play of Pritchard (12 points) prevailed as he went 4-for-4 from the free throw line in the final 30 seconds to clinch the win.
"Sometimes you gotta depend on your older guys," Altman said.
Utah’s leading scorer Sedrick Barefield finished with 16 points for the Utes, but the Ducks made him work hard for those points. He finished 4-of-16 from the field and 3-of-11 from beyond the arc as Oregon’s length and athleticism really frustrated the smaller point guard.
"Our press took the ball out of Barefield's hands and made other people try and make plays,” Oregon’s Paul White (14 points) said. “We just wanted to make everything he did difficult.”
The Ducks will now try finish their first conference sweep when they face Colorado (11-9, 2-6 Pac-12) on Saturday. Tipoff is set for 6:30 p.m. and will be broadcast on the Pac-12 Network.