Ducks upset Utah in home finale
All year, the Ducks basketball team lacked a signature win against a top-tier opponent. They have stayed on the bubble of the tournament for weeks, but were still trying to get that win that would propel them into March.
Now, after Sunday's home upset over the ninth-ranked Utah Utes, they have their signature victory.
The Ducks (20-8, 10-5) beat the Utes (21-5, 11-3) 69-58 in their last home game of the season.
It started on the defensive end, where the Ducks forced 14 turnovers and held the Utes to 32 percent shooting from the field in the second half.
"I was very pleased," head coach Dana Altman said. "To hold a team to 32 percent in the second half, we hadn't done that defensively and on the boards against a real good team. That was the difference in the game in the second half."
And on a day that celebrated the Oregon careers of seniors Joseph Young, Jalil Abdul-Bassit and Tim Jensen, it was sophomore Dillon Brooks who shouldered the bulk of the offense, particularly late in the game.
It started when Brooks hit a three-pointer with six minutes remaining to extend the Ducks' lead to eight. Brooks then went on to score six more points in the next three minutes, including an exclamation dunk that brought the 10,275-person crowd to their feet. He finished with 19 points.
"Dillon [Brooks] isn't a freshman anymore - I told him that," Young said. "He's got to make another transition in the game. He did very well at the end of the game. He got a poster dunk… got the crowd going. He stepped up big time."
Young had 14 points himself, but struggled from the field going 5 for 16, including 1 for 8 from behind the arc.
"Tonight my shot was off, but I think I played great defense and made good plays when they needed to be made," Young said. "It's not just offense sometimes… I like to play defense too."
Elgin Cook added 12 points for the Ducks and Delon Wright had a game-high 20 points for the Utes.
Young, Abdul-Bassit and Jensen were honored after the game with a ceremony in which their families were present and their accomplishments celebrated.
While PA announcer Don Essig read Young's accolades, Young was emotional, crouching down near the Ducks' bench looking at the floor with tears in his eyes. Young was asked to describe the moment afterwards.
"Where I was when I was younger, nobody recruited me," Young said. "Now, I'm getting these accomplishments because of my teammates and coach [Altman] put me in a good [position]. I'm not a crybaby, but I shed a couple tears. It's just that moment that I've never had before."
Although the season is far from over, Sunday's game will be the last game these three play in Eugene.
"I feel like every home game is a great atmosphere, but this one was special," Abdul-Bassit said. "It's hard to explain, I can't really put it into words."
With an NCAA tournament bid looking like a very real possibility, the Ducks have exceeded expectations this season. Going into the season, Altman was unsure where the team would be this late in the season.
"I just didn't know," Altman said. "You don't like to sell to your team short, you like to be optimistic, but I'm a realist. When you only have three guys back… other than talent, experience is the most important thing. I was really worried about our experience level, and that showed early, but I'm really pleased with the way guys stuck together and stuck with me."
The Ducks have three games remaining, all away from MKA, beginning Wednesday evening against Cal. They got their signature win on Sunday. Now, they must show the committee that they can win on the road to seal the deal.