A road win over a ranked team should have Oregon brimming with confidence. Another victory against a quality opponent would leave the team feeling even better.
The 19th-ranked Ducks look to build on their most impressive win of the season Saturday afternoon when they face Utah at the Rose Garden.
Oregon (6-1) has looked very good early this season, winning its first four games by an average of 19.7 points. The Ducks rebounded from an upset loss at Saint Mary’s with a 31-point victory over San Francisco.
Facing a ranked nonconference opponent for the first time in five years, Oregon made enough plays down the stretch for a hard-fought 80-77 overtime victory over No. 25 Kansas State on Nov. 29.
Bryce Taylor scored 11 of his 18 points after halftime, and Maarty Leunen added 14 points and 14 rebounds.
“It just turned out to be a great road win for us because this is a team that’s still in transition, trying to find which man or men is going to be that Aaron Brooks,” Oregon coach Ernie Kent said.
Brooks, the Ducks’ leading scorer last season, is now in the NBA with the Houston Rockets.
Although Oregon has four of five starters back from last season’s team that won the Pac-10 tournament and reached the NCAA’s round of eight, it is still unsure who will be the primary scoring option.
Scoring, though, hasn’t been much of a problem for Kent’s team, which ranks third nationally with 91.3 points per game. The Ducks have scored at least 80 points in each game this season.
All of Oregon’s starters are averaging in double figures, paced by Malik Hairston’s 17.9 points per game. Leunen averages 15.7 points and a team-best 11.0 rebounds.
Kent will try to join Howard Hobson as the only coaches in school history with 200 wins. Kent is 199-121 in 11 seasons with the Ducks.
After struggling to an uncharacteristically poor 11-19 record in 2006-07, Utah (5-2) has been a much improved team this season under first-year coach Jim Boylen.
The Utes scored the first 11 points of the game en route to an easy 72-48 victory over rival Utah State on Wednesday.
Luke Nevill set season highs with 20 points and 14 rebounds while Kim Tillie added 16 points and shot 7-of-7 from the field in Utah’s third straight double-digit win.
“I watched the starts of our last three games, trying to figure out why we were getting off to sluggish starts,” Boylen said. “We tried to do a better job on the first five or six plays tonight and get off to a quicker start. We’ve been a little stagnant early.”
Oregon hopes to find a way to contain the 7-foot-1 Nevill, who leads the Utes in scoring (14.4), rebounding (7.9) and blocks (1.6).
Utah leads the all-time series 7-6, including a 60-58 victory in the first round of the 2003 NCAA tournament in the most recent meeting.