A few months ago I asked Jordan Loveridge about his role on this Utes team. He said something about his growing role as a leader, but that might have only been because I lead him into it. He did talk about the conversations he’d been having with his coach about him becoming more of a leader before trailing off as teenagers in front of microphones tend to do.
But it was clear that Loveridge was being groomed to lead. On Thursday night he showed us he’s ready. Because leaders don’t always win but they do lead and Jordan took 23 shots in the losing effort. He took the last shot in regulation and the last shot in overtime. In a game ripe for Utah to slink away from, Loveridge scored 11 first half points. We are here to play.
And this could be the article where I tell you how close Jordan and the Utes were to knocking off #10 Oregon. I could yap about how hard the Utes played and that they really were in that one. They can hold their heads high knowing they went toe-to-toe with a top-10 team. Then I’d call it a moral victory and we’d all roll our eyes. And agree.
Not gonna do it.
Not gonna do it because that’s not how the Utes feel about it. That’s not the way it looked and it’s not the walk away feeling on the matter. There was a Duck dog pile afterwards as dejected Utes shook the hands of the Oregon coaching staff. And such a celebration is not indicative of much beyond the fact that it was a fantastic finish; but it is telling to the necessary release after such a struggle. Oregon had lost that game. Utah had won it. And then the buzzer sounded and the score didn’t really say that. It was a terrific basketball game lost in seemingly the most inconceivable of ways.
Oregon is a good basketball team. They have some front court issues but enough talented and contributing guards that they’re always going to be a tough out. It’s worth noting that they showed plenty of toughness themselves.
This being a Utah-centric piece, however, let’s talk about those guys. They held two separate leads in two separate final minutes. That highlights the inconceivability of the loss. But whatever, losses happen and so do wins:
I was surprised by how upbeat Larry Krystkowiak was at the postgame presser. I think he knows the wins will come
— Tony Jones (@Tjonessltrib) January 3, 2014
Because Larry K has weathered quite a storm in Utah to get to this point where we don’t have to call his team’s work cute. Or Cinderella. Or morally victorious. Because for all the talk of their bummer of a schedule, the Utes have been winning – something they haven’t done a ton of these past four seasons.
Leading to Thursday night, the Utes had been sticking to a high potent and effective offense. They’d relied on their leader – Loveridge – to lead (27% of the shots). Their model of 56% eFG shooting had won them eleven previous games. Unfortunately, the distance shooting let them down on Thursday: 3-19 ain’t gonna Duck it. They’d previously been shooting a nationally average 33% from three (for help, 3-19 is 15%). The final shot was a good Loveridge look that rimmed out.
But breaking this one down doesn’t tell us much. This was a basketball game featuring two teams scoring like Wilt: 90.8 ppg for Oregon; 87.4 for Utah. So naturally they played to the tune of 70-68. Collectively they barely broke 0.9 ppp. That was a dog fight.
What we learned from it:
- Jordan Loveridge wants to be a star and so he is
- Delon Wright is as talented as any guard in the conference and he carries himself like it
- Utah is not soon going to sneak up on anyone
- Bachynski is hereditary
It is a moral victory, though. We watched Utah play like they expected to win the whole time. Larry K was upbeat after the game not because he was giddy at how close his team came to winning but because he knows that his team now has every reason to believe in themselves. Jordan Loveridge had talked about becoming a leader and Thursday night he showed us he can be. I like to be process oriented and we’ll learn a lot more about these Utes in how they react to this game. Should they lay an egg on Saturday, drop one to Oregon State, well we can start to make some different assumptions.
But a seemingly jovial K suggests he knows how his team will react. He expected that performance. He expected to win but he didn’t.
Sometimes that happens.
AND NOW THE THOUGHTS FROM AROUND THE LEAGUE’S OTHER FOUR GAMES:
- Washington State scored .46 points per possession. Washington State scored .63 points per minute. Washington State put the ball through the basket 14 total times. Washington State scored one touchdown in the first half. All of this is to suggest that Washington State did not score. Arizona won. Contextually, Colorado State scored 18 points (matching WSU’s second half output in Tucson) in 2:52 at the New Mexico bowl [insert too soon BOOs here].
- I suppose it wouldn’t be the start of conference play if we didn’t have a WTF moment. That’s what happened inside Wells Fargo as the conference’s worst defense naturally shut down ASU. The Huskies have been nothing short of pretty bad and they beat the Sun Devils handily. On the road. Makes total Pac-12 sense. They did this last year, too, jumping out to a 4-0 conference record, all outside Seattle. So I ask, upset alert in Tucson on Saturday?
- And while all things Tempe were unexpected, there was something delightfully expected about a depleted Cal team going into Maples and beating Stanford. Because they don’t make sense. Cal won, Stanford disappointed and now let’s talk about Justin Cobbs step-back jumpers with the clock winding down. Maybe the most perfect shot in the game.
- The return of Eric Moreland was the only game I missed and by many accounts I didn’t miss the most exciting of games. The talent level at Oregon State seems to be better than their record and trajectory indicates but such is the Craig Robinson era? Big tilt forthcoming on Sunday as we have our first top-20 matchup in the Pac-12 since Bill Walton liked UCLA!
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