EUGENE, Ore. (AP) — Jordan Bell thinks the Oregon Ducks who are closing out the season would have won the games they lost at the start.
And that’s the whole idea: Improvement.
Dillon Brooks scored 20 points and No. 7 Oregon defeated shorthanded Utah 79-61 on Thursday night to extend the Ducks’ home winning streak to 41 games.
“Definitely, I think every month we’ve gotten better and better,” he said. “I think we’re a totally different team than we played like in Maui and at Baylor. I think if we played those games again we’d win. So I think we’re making steps, consistently.”
Jayce Johnson had 14 points and 12 rebounds for Utah (17-8, 8-6), playing without top scorer Kyle Kuzma because of a sprained ankle.
Kuzma apparently was injured during practice on Wednesday. The 6-foot-9 junior starter is averaging 15.7 points and 10.2 rebounds per game. His rebounding averaging ranked second in the Pac-12 and 17th in the nation. He has 15 double-doubles this season.
“He’s one of our more productive players, so we’ve got to fill that gap a little bit,” Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak said. “I was proud of our guys’ effort, though.”
Oregon, sitting second in the Pac-12 standings behind Arizona, led by as many as 26 points. Leading the nation with an average of 6.9 blocks a game, Oregon finished with 10 against the Utes.
It was Oregon’s ninth straight win over Utah.
Oregon coach Dana Altman did see cause for concern. The Utes had 19 second-chance points, compared to the Ducks’ three.
“Those 19 second-chance points takes all your effort defensively off the board, and makes it tough,” he said.
The Ducks jumped out to an 18-8 lead, paced by Tyler Dorsey’s 10 points. It was the third straight game that Oregon had opened up a 10-point lead on an opponent in the first half.
Chris Boucher’s 3-pointer pushed Oregon’s lead to 26-12. Dylan Ennis gave Oregon its biggest lead of the first half with a layup that made it 39-18 but Utah ended the half on a 7-2 run to close the gap to 41-25.
Tyler Rawson hit Utah’s first 3-pointer of the game in the second half to narrow the deficit to 43-30. But Oregon again extended the lead on Brooks’ layup that made it 54-32.
Brooks’ dunk gave the Ducks a 71-49 lead with just over 7 minutes left. He followed it up with a 3-pointer.
The Ducks’ home streak is the longest active winning streak in the nation. Thursday’s game was Oregon’s sixth sellout of the season.
Oregon rebounded from a loss at UCLA with an 81-70 victory over USC last weekend. After the Utes, the Ducks host Colorado at home before wrapping up the season at the league’s Northern California schools and a rivalry game against Oregon State.
Utah was coming off wins at home against Washington State and Washington. The Utes went into the game knotted with USC at fifth in conference play.
Earlier this season, the Ducks defeated the Utes 73-67 on Jan. 26 in Salt Lake City.
“We got beat by the better team. There’s a reason they’re the No. 7 team in the country, and I’m not sure they’re not even better than that,” Krystkowiak said. “Dana’s done a hell of a job with them.”
Utah: The Utes are 1-5 against ranked teams this season. … Utah’s 25 first-half points were a season low for a half.
Oregon: The Ducks’ record is the second-best in school history, behind the 1926-27 team that went 24-2. … Oregon has been in the AP Top 25 for a school-record 23 straight weeks. … With a layup with 13:33 left, Brooks passed Joe Young (1,388 points) for 15th on Oregon’s career scoring list.
The fifth-ranked Arizona Wildcats, who the Ducks beat at home two weekends ago, defeated Washington State 78-59 on Thursday night to maintain the top spot in the Pac-12 standings with four games to go for the league’s teams. Arizona visits Washington before hosting USC and UCLA next weekend, wrapping up at Arizona State.
Utah: The Utes travel to face Oregon State on Sunday.
Oregon: The Ducks host Colorado on Saturday. The Buffaloes beat Oregon 74-65 on Jan. 28 in Boulder.
Altman said the Ducks are wary.
“We’ve just got to play a lot better. We didn’t play very well, our ball movement was awful, took a lot of bad shots. Defensively our activity wasn’t very good,” he said. “I don’t want to take anything away from Colorado, they played with much more energy that we did and they just flat beat us.”
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