Runnin’ Utes Dominate Hornets in Both Gach’s Return


Jack Gambassi

University of Utah men’s basketball player Branden Carlson (#35) dribbles the ball into the opponent Abilene Christian’s territory during the game on Nov. 9, 2021 at the Jon M. Huntsman Center on campus in Salt Lake City. (Photo by Jack Gambassi | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

By Ethan Pearce, Sports Editor


The University of Utah men’s basketball team got a 89-56 win against the Sacramento State Hornets on Saturday night, moving to 2-0 on the season. Branden Carlson scored 21 points and Marco Anthony pulled down 16 rebounds. 

Carlson got things going with a dunk plus the foul. He quickly scored two more buckets, both off assists, to make it 6-4 Utes.

Both Gach made his season debut off the bench for the Utes after receiving his letter of clearance from the NCAA, immediately throwing a pass inside to Carlson for an easy dunk. Gach played for the Utes in 2019-20, and spent last season at Minnesota before transferring back to Utah.

“I was really proud of him,” said head coach Craig Smith. “The way he handled it was like a pro’s pro.”

Utah settled into a groove offensively, getting the lead to 21-9. Dusan Mahorcic made a couple of really nice passes in his first few minutes, one to set up Riley Battin for a bucket at the rim.

Sacramento State found themselves in foul trouble early, with nine team fouls just over halfway through the first half. The Utes took advantage by getting to the free throw line multiple times to continue to pad their lead.

The Hornets shot the three well enough in the first half to keep them in the game, but Utah continued to get to the line in order to stay ahead, though not by as much as they would like.

The offense went a little cold for a couple minutes near the end of the first half, allowing Sacramento State to climb back into the game, but Utah finished the half strong and went to the locker room up 45-30.

The second half started off with a three-point shot from Carlson. He looked comfortable stepping into his jumper and knocked it down — a piece of his game that’s improved over the course of his career at Utah. He got another chance a few minutes later, and drilled that one as well. Carlson is becoming a real threat to score whenever and wherever he touches the ball.

“Branden’s just such a talented guy,” Smith said. “He’s the total package. I think he’s going to keep on getting better.”

“I think my teammates did a great job of finding me,” Carlson said. “These coaches have a lot of confidence in me … I think that’s definitely something that I’m capable of.”

Utah played their best stretch of basketball this season about halfway through the second half, scoring on four straight possessions, including two triples. The ball zipped up and around the court, leading to open shots to put Utah up by 30, 71-41 Utes with about 10 minutes to play.

“We want that kind of flow where we learn to play off one another,” Smith said. “I thought we got better tonight.”

The rest of the game was garbage time, with Smith giving some of his deeper bench pieces a chance to play. Eli Ballstaedt hit a three, Lahat Thioune had a putback layup and Harrison Creer had a nice hustle play to save the ball out of bounds. Jaxon Brenchley blocked a shot, then finished off a tough layup on the other end. 

“I do trust our guys. When you see us in practice, there’s days Eli is lights out,” Smith said. “Lahat has had a good camp … I think we’ve got some depth to us.”

The final score was 89-56. It was a dominant showing for Smith’s team to move them to 2-0 in non-conference play. Up next, Utah will face Bethune-Cookman on Monday, Nov. 15 at 8 p.m. at the Jon M. Huntsman Center for the first game of the Sunshine Slam.


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