After a pair of dominating road wins against Washington State and Washington, the Runnin’ Utes are back home in Salt Lake City and are facing the No. 10 Oregon Ducks on Thursday, Jan. 26.
Jayce Johnson may end up in the starting rotation for the third straight game, depending on whether or not David Collette is healthy enough to return to the lineup. He approaches each game the same way, however, and whether Johnson is coming off of the bench or playing the second the ball is tipped-off, the end goal is a win and that’s enough for him.
“I’m going to go out there and give my heart to the game and play as hard as I can,” Johnson said.
Oregon’s Dillon Brooks is also questionable for the upcoming game, but he currently leads the Ducks in points per game — he has been averaging 13.4 points for the whole season and 14.5 in conference play. Oregon has about four other players averaging double digits, however, so someone will more than likely fill in the gap if he is sidelined on Thursday night.
Since Oregon has a handful of players that squared off against the Utes last season, it won’t be too tricky to come up with a game plan. Head coach Larry Krystkowiak is pretty familiar with Oregon’s head coach Dana Altman’s tendencies, but one thing Utah knows it will need to do is sharpen up its offense.
In the past five games, Utah has scored at least 80 points, and although this shows an improving offensive game, Krystkowiak noted earlier in the week that Oregon’s defense is difficult to predict. The Ducks rotate through about three defenses, and that is one of the reasons Krystkowiak thinks Altman is one of the most respected coaches in the country. When they plan man-to-man and are forced to switch, it’s as if Oregon’s guards have no problem facing up against opposing bigs, and Oregon’s big men have no problem guarding the perimeter.
“They play with an awful lot of energy,” Krystkowiak said. “They keep you off balanced. They’re flying around, they’re covering for each other. They have a great passion for defending the basketball and they do it wisely. Defense wins championships and they’ve proven that. Dana’s a coach who believes in defense, and they make you earn shots.”
For that reason, Krystkowiak knows his players are going to have to attack the basket with a lot of power and force. The last time Oregon lost a game was on Nov. 21. Since then, the Ducks have been on a 16 game winning streak.
Although it’s ultimately on the players themselves to make sure they are ready by the time tip-off arrives, Krystkowiak is continuing to do his part in readying his team for anything they might face.
“I’m never going to be complacent about the execution, making sure that we’re going to run things hard with a sense of urgency,” Krystkowiak said. “Basketball’s not complicated.”
Game time is set for 8:30 p.m. in the Huntsman Center.