After trailing by eight to the last ranked Utes heading into the half (they struggled to turn rebounds into points and shot just 30% from the field), the Ducks came alive offensively in the last ten minutes, attacking the basket and gaining a seven point lead with five minutes to go. From there on, Oregon never looked back, winning 73-64.
While the turnovers were ugly (17), and the Ducks shot under 50% (39.6) from the field for the fourth consecutive game, the win tonight got this team going again.
The Ducks' rebounding tonight was also back on track (41 to Utah's 19) with Arsalan Kazemi contributing 14.
“It feels good.” he said. “That's how I can contribute to my team.”
But he contributed in a much bigger way tonight. For the first time, Kazemi spoke up in the locker room, giving a half time speech to light a fire.
“We talked to the team, I couldn't let the coaches care more about the team than we did.”
Coach Altman was pleased to see a spark from the Iranian-born Rice transfer. “Basketball is a game of passion. We want guys to be fired up. He has that laid back cool, and at half time he let his team mates know this was important to him.....I think that's as good as he's played all year. Arsalan's performance definitely changed the game.”
A big part of that powerful second-half performance was EJ Singler, who led the team with 21 points, shooting 14-15 from the free throw line . He was as aggressive as ever tonight, evidenced by a hard fight for a rebound to keep their small 15-12 lead midway through the first half.
Tonight was all about bouncing back, especially for Damyean Dotson. When fellow freshman Dominic Artis went down, so did his numbers. “It wasn't just me thinking I had to take over, it was me knowing I had to take over.” Dotson contributed 16 points and four rebounds.
“All the staff has been talking to me, telling me to come out. They showed me video of me early in the season. It inspired me,” he said with a smile.
“He looked like the old Dod, he was flying around, hitting his shots. I thought he did a good job,” said Altman.
Early on, Oregon was struggling to get good looks, with Utah's zone daring them to shoot from the perimeter. Oregon attempted four attempts from three in the first three minutes, making just one.
“I think teams like to zone us because they think we can't shoot. We are a good shooting team. We will get better,” said Dotson.
Things stayed erratic for a while, with four turnovers 14:26 mark, two on offensive fouls.
Dotson's pair of free throws finally put them in the lead, and they followed it with a Kazemi steal and slam to put themselves up 13-10 with just over 12 minutes in the first half.
With 7:28, Oregon had 9 offensive rebounds, leading rebounding battle 16-4., yet only led by 3 points.
At the half, Ducks had 11 offensive rebounds but just weren't turning them into points.
In the second half, Kazemi and Co. came out swinging.
A big, confident three by Singler got the team back in the hunt and the crowd back into the game, behind by just one point 31-32.
It was followed by turnover No. 15 for the Ducks (Loyd went to the hoop on two defenders, hit pretty hard with no call. Crowd was LIVID.) Utah had 34-31 lead with 15:21 remaining.
A Dotson three-ball kept them in it, and the Ducks began to creep up on Utah.
Midway through the second half, a much, much, much-needed three-pointer by Loyd put the Ducks within two, 41-43 with 11. Then he took an elbow to the face and was taken to the lockers, firing up his team mates. Big time.
Oregon came alive, attacking the basket, pulling away. Aggressive, confident, in sync, they were up 56-45 with 3:58 to go, and the rest was history.
Ducks hit the road again this week, playing Washington at 8pm Wednesday.