Utah-Oregon Preview

Oregon has climbed to the top of the Pac-12 thanks to consistency at both ends of the floor, something that's too often eluded Utah this season.

Home dominance also has played a major role in the 16th-ranked Ducks' rise, another psychological hurdle the Utes will have to overcome when they visit Eugene on Sunday following a crushing last-second loss.

Utah began the season in the Top 25 but it's Oregon (19-4, 8-2) that has emerged as the Pac-12's best team, having blended a balanced up-tempo offense and playmaking defense with a distinct advantage at Matthew Knight Arena. That combination has propelled the Ducks to five consecutive wins and eight over a nine-game stretch, including a 77-59 victory over the Utes on Jan. 14.

Utah (17-6, 6-4) bounced back from that defeat to win five straight and was on its way to a sixth Thursday at Oregon State. But Brandon Taylor fouled Stephen Thompson Jr. on a last-second heave from half-court, resulting in three successful free throws and a stunning 71-69 loss.

The Utes put the Beavers in position to win by committing seven of their 12 turnovers in the final seven minutes, squandering a 60-50 lead with 7:44 left.

''There are a lot of mistakes throughout the course of the game. It's unfortunate that it comes down to one that's going to get magnified, but there's plenty to go around,'' coach Larry Krystkowiak said.

Utah now faces a Ducks team that's won eight of nine in the series and 21 straight home games.

Oregon controlled play throughout its fifth consecutive victory over the Utes last month, shooting 54.9 percent and holding Utah to a season-low 33.9. It neutralized Jakob Poeltl, limiting the star center to seven points and 1-of-4 shooting.

Chris Boucher led the effort with six blocks and is tops in Division I with 3.39 per game. The junior college transfer has 13 over the past two contests after recording six in Thursday's 76-56 rout of Colorado.

Oregon held the Buffaloes to 33.8 percent shooting to avenge a 91-87 defeat in Boulder on Jan. 17.

“We were flying around, hands up, swatting a lot of balls and we probably got them a little frustrated, but we just tried to play defense and stop them from putting the ball in the hole,” forward Dwayne Benjamin said.

Elgin Cook had 18 points to offset an off night from leading scorer Dillon Brooks, held to 10 in 20 minutes while battling foul trouble. Cook has averaged 17.6 points and Boucher 15.4 along with 9.2 rebounds during the winning streak.

Boucher exited in the final minutes with a lower left leg injury, though coach Dana Altman wasn't worried.

“I think he's going to be alright. I think it's just a little bit of a tweak, hopefully,” Altman said. “He has become such an important part of our team … even though his offense was a little bit off, he just changed the game.''

Boucher's status is a big factor with Poeltl, second in the Pac-12 with 17.4 points per game, averaging 23.3 over a five-game tear. The 7-foot sophomore is shooting 66.7 percent in that span after going 8 of 11 in a 20-point, nine-rebound effort against Oregon State.

Poeltl, however, hasn't scored more than seven in three career matchups with Oregon, which dealt the then-No. 9 Utes a 69-58 defeat in Eugene on Feb. 22.