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Utah Men’s Basketball Starts the Season 2-0 in Dominant Fashion

The Runnin’ Utes saw a busy start to the season with dominant matches against Eastern Washington and UC Riverside.
Adam Fondren
Utah Utes forward David Collette (13) dunks uncontested in the third quarter as the Utes take on the LSU Tigers in the NIT at the Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City, UT on March 19, 2018. (Photo by Adam Fondren | Daily Utah Chronicle)


Eastern Washington 

The Utah men’s basketball team started off the season strong with a dominating 101-66 win over the Eastern Washington Eagles. Twelve different Utah players saw the court in Monday night’s victory, including double-digit minutes from 10 of the 12 players. A well-rounded scoring effort from the Utes saw six different players score in double figures to help pace the Utes offense to over 100 points.

First Half

Early on in the game, sharpshooters Gabe Madsen and Cole Bajema both connected from three, both on assists from senior point guard Rollie Worster. Madsen was not only effective from three, going 4-7 on the night, but he also had a thunderous dunk early in the game to set the tone for the rest of the evening.

The Utes would go cold after an electric up and down first few minutes, allowing Eastern Washington to stick around through the first nine minutes of the game. The score sat at 10-12 before Worster’s experience and composure showed to be a major factor. Worster found an open Bajema for his second 3-pointer of the game before blowing past his defender for one opportunity a few possessions later.

Worster continued to apply pressure on the defensive end, making the Eastern Washington guards uncomfortable. He then recorded a steal, which led to a Lawson Lovering bucket on the other end of the floor. A few possessions later, Worster recorded another steal and dished a beautiful behind-the-back pass to Bajema for the dunk to get the Utah faithful on their feet. Worster would continue the Utah run by splitting two defenders on a gorgeous left-to-right spin move layup, putting Utah ahead 30-12 with just under six minutes to go in the half.

Eastern Washington would continue to claw at the Utah lead, closing the gap to 30-18 late in the half. Despite the Eagles’ effort to keep the game close, a 14-2 run courtesy of Worster, Madsen, Branden Carlson and Ben Carlson would give the Runnin’ Utes a commanding 44-20 lead heading into halftime.

Second Half

The second half was an offensive clinic, seeing both teams trade baskets back and forth for the first eight minutes. The Utes held a 60-36 lead before imposing their will on Eastern Washington. As the game crept into the final 11 minutes, the physical aggression of the Utes started to show. The Utah forwards started to dominate the offensive and defensive boards, while Madsen seemed to become un-guardable. Eastern Washington attempted to keep pace with Utah, but the Utes’ defensive dominance and bench depth took the life out of the Eagles. In the final six minutes, the Utes were able to pull a majority of their starters and allowed for reserves such as Luka Tarlac, Jake Wahlin and Hunter Erickson to get valuable game minutes down the stretch.

The Utes would end up with a convincing 101-66 win, advancing to 1-0 on the season. Utah showed stretches of dominance throughout the game and ended up being too much for Eastern Washington to handle when it was all said and done.

Stuffing the Stat Sheet

Madsen would end up leading the Utes in scoring with 20 points on 8-12 shooting from the field. In just 13 minutes of action, Keba Keita recorded a double-double of 11 points and 11 rebounds while also adding two blocks to his final stat line. Worster had an all-around dominant performance, recording 15 points, eight assists, and a remarkable six steals on the evening. Newcomer Bajema also showed offensive firepower, putting up 17 points on an efficient 5-9 from the field in his first game as a Ute. Both Carlsons were able to put up 11 points on the night to give the Utes an astounding six players in double-digit scoring. All around Utah showed the ability to be unselfish, which should pay dividends as they get into the bulk of their schedule.

UC Riverside 

To continue the excitement, the team faced off for another match against the UC Riverside Highlanders on Friday, Nov. 10 at the Jon M. Huntsman Center. The Runnin’ Utes defensive prowess was on full display the entire game, en route to a convincing 82-53 win. The Utes carried the momentum from their Monday night victory and looked just as sharp on both sides of the floor, especially in the first half on Friday.

First Half

Early on in the game, it was evident the Utes wanted to get out in transition and push the pace after getting defensive stops. Easy dunks from Bajema and Madsen helped propel Utah to an early 17-4 run to set the tone for a dominant first half.

At the under-eight-minute timeout, Utah held an astounding 29-6 lead thanks to the defensive masterclass the team put on. The paint presence of Branden Carlson, Lovering and Keita was too much for the Highlanders to handle, and it was evident throughout the entire first half.

Heading into halftime, the Utes held a 48-13 lead thanks to a well-balanced offensive attack. Branden Carlson led Utah with 11 points, followed by 10 points from Bajema. Lovering also looked aggressive on the offensive end and was able to chip in nine points of his own. Utah shot 17-31 from the field as a team while holding UC Riverside to just 5-30. The Utah defense was locked in the entire first half to take a convincing 35-point lead into the locker room.

Second Half

The second half started slowly for the Utes, allowing UC Riverside to chip away at the deficit. With nine minutes left to go in the game, the Utes held a 65-36 lead, with UC Riverside picking it up on both ends of the floor. Despite the lackluster start to the second half, Keita came off the bench and provided some valuable minutes, with Branden Carlson picking up his third foul. Ben Carlson also gave the Utes a spark off the bench, knocking down a couple of threes and picking up an and-one opportunity as well.

With 4:08 left in the game, the Utes were able to take out the starters and get some of the reserves valuable minutes, similar to the previous game against Eastern Washington.

The Utes dominating defensive performance and hot first half shooting propelled them to yet another win at home and helped set the tone for the rest of a very exciting season. Utah would end up winning this one 82-53 and looks to continue their undefeated streak heading into the bulk of the non-conference schedule.

Stuffing the Stat Sheet (Again)

Utah was led in scoring by newcomer Lovering, who ended the game with a solid 18 points on 7-11 shooting and picked up seven rebounds as well. Brandon Carlson chipped in 16 points, while Bajema poured in 13 on another efficient shooting night. Ben Carlson added 11 points off the bench, while Keita scored 10 and reached double figures in points for the second consecutive game. Eleven players saw minutes for the Utes in this one, which is a great sign for Smith and his staff heading into a tougher part of their schedule.

What’s next for the Utes?

The Utes will travel to Charleston for the Charleston Classic, where they will look to bring some hardware back to Salt Lake City. Utah will take on Wake Forest in their first game of the preseason tournament on Nov. 16 at 7:00 p.m. MST.


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About the Contributor
Kyle Garrison
Kyle Garrison, Assistant Sports Editor
Kyle garrison grew up in Spring Lake, Michigan. He moved to Salt Lake City to pursue a degree in communications with an emphasis in journalism. Kyle plans on pursuing broadcast journalism as a career once graduating from the University of Utah. Kyle started with the Chronicle this fall and has loved every minute of working with the team.

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  • J

    JillNov 11, 2023 at 12:35 pm

    Great info. Go Utes!