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Home Stretch – Episode 7: Updates and Predictions About the Utah Men’s Basketball Season

In this episode, sports writer Kyle Garrison comes back on the show to give us a run down of the first two Utah Men’s Basketball games, and his thoughts on how the rest of the season will play out.
Mary Allen
(Design by Mary Allen | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

Disclaimer: This podcast was recorded when the Utah Men’s Basketball team had only played their first two games against Eastern Washington and UC Riverside. Enjoy.


Stevie Shaughnessey: Hi and welcome to Home Stretch, The Daily Utah Chronicle’s sports podcast. My name is Stevie and I’ll be your host. Today, sports writer Kyle Garrison is joining us to talk about the first two men’s basketball games, and if he saw anything interesting that changed predictions from last time [on the podcast]. Hi, Kyle. Thanks for coming back on the podcast. 

Kyle Garrison: Hey, Stevie. Thanks for having me again. Appreciate it. 

Stevie Shaughnessey: So, watching the first two basketball games, I mean, personally, I saw that the team was put together, they seemed to be communicating well. What were some things that you noticed during the games? 

Kyle Garrison: Yeah. In my opinion, the first thing that stood out to me was just the defense and how suffocating it was, especially from our guards. Rollie Worster, I think, if I’m correct here, had six steals in the game against UC Riverside. Just making the opposing guards uncomfortable, especially in college basketball, when the guards are just more susceptible to turnovers and more susceptible to fastbreak opportunities. Guys like Rollie who can just, you know –get in their face, guard close, pick up half court just makes it a lot harder for teams that aren’t as experienced handling the ball, and that’s what I saw that just really stood out to me was just that defensive pressure not only from Rollie but from Gabe Madsen, Cole Bajema, Hunter Erickson as well. Just our guard pressure was phenomenal. The first two games against Eastern Washington and UC Riverside, making those guys uncomfortable all game long. Another thing that kind of leads from the guard pressure is just getting into fastbreak opportunities. When the ball pressure is high, especially in the half-court set, it makes it a lot harder for the opposing teams to get back on defense when we push the ball, so Rollie being able to get the ball up to Bajema and Madsen as they run the wing and then get it down to Lovering and Branden Carlson, Ben Carlson and our big guys – there was just a lot of aspects that I didn’t see from the team last year that I saw early on in the, in the first two games, which I really, really liked to see. I know Coach Smith, I’m sure totally emphasized the fact that last year we were very low and fast break points. I’m not sure what our rank was in the Pac-12, but I know it wasn’t very high. So just watching the team get out around the ball, let Rollie kind of run the offense but also let him make decisions in just like, like split, split-second decisions, getting the ball to our wing players and then getting the ball down low is beautiful to see. Like I said, half-court defense was great. Our half-court sets were much more guard-driven, with Rollie kind of running the show, letting him do his thing. Getting the two seven-footers starting, Lawson Lovering and Brendan Carlson, I love to see Coach Smith emphasizing height, getting those big guys down there getting down and dirty, and I absolutely love to see Rollie just dishing it down to those guys, getting post touches every single possession and just making the defense collapse, and yeah. I just, I saw a lot of things that early on this year that I didn’t see last year, which was really good to see.

Stevie Shaughnessey: What players stood out to you on the court and that you saw making changes out on the court?

Kyle Garrison: Yeah, so early on in the season, I talked about how losing Lavar Stefanovic to, or Lazar Stefanovic, excuse me, to UCLA was a big, was a big loss considering he was probably our best perimeter shooter at the wing position, besides Gabe Madsen, and watching Cole Bajema go out there and just absolutely, just, just a sharpshooter. He was putting up shots and just, you mean you expected him to go down. He was, he’s over 50% already on the year and on only two games, small sample size, but being able to watch him just light it up from, from range is a really good sign, and it’s a really good compliment to Gabe Madsen, who was also a great shooter as well. Our wings looked really athletic, really explosive, which I was not expecting to see. Gabe Madsen, like, had a couple of dunks early in the first two games that I did not expect to see out of him. He is super athletic. I don’t know if he worked it on, worked on it in the off-season or not, but he was getting rebounds, he was getting up there for dunks, getting up there, he had a couple blocks, just a great all-around performance from him. Rollie Worster, I can’t say enough good things about him. I mean, his one-on-one defense is elite, to say the least and his ability to expose mismatches is ridiculous. You never really see a guy that can guard him on the offense, or on the defensive end and then come on the other end and, you know, make a play against him because his defense is just so unbelievably good. Six steals is ridiculous in a college basketball game. I don’t care who you’re playing. So, really good stuff from our guard play. Keba Keita came in. He’s a machine, like, he is just a defensive, just menace. Two double-doubles, I believe. I know, I know he had a double-double against UC, or against Eastern Washington. I’m not sure what his stat line was against UC Riverside. He might have been a couple of rebounds short, but I know he scored in double figures both games in very limited minutes. Great on the defensive end. Ben Carlson, you could tell he worked on his jump shot in the off-season just to allow him to get more minutes and he was playing, he’s been playing great in the first two games. Can’t wait to see what he’s able to do. Obviously, Lawson Lovering and Brendan Carlson, that two headed monster down low. It’s gonna be really hard for teams to handle. I’m really excited to see how those guys start to mesh as the season progresses. 

Stevie Shaughnessey: So I know that the lineup is, like, very similar to last year, but was there anything that you saw that surprised you? 

Kyle Garrison: Yeah, the first thing right away was Lawson Lovering starting. I had no idea. I know coming out of, I believe he’s from Colorado, he’s a Colorado transfer, and I did not think that he was going to initially, you know, sneak into the lineup. I thought maybe he’d be the, you know, the eighth or ninth man off the bench and get in like 10 minutes to make sure that if Branden Carlson were to get into follow trouble then Lawson could come in but him starting, I mean, the first game you could tell he was very new to the system. That second game he really picked it up. I believe he led us in scoring that game. Yeah, he ended with 18 points on seven for 11 shooting against UC Riverside. So that was very surprising. Another thing, Gabe, Gabe Madsen, like I said, very athletic. I did not see, you know, that last year and being able to kind of see that he has progressed his game [and]  is not just a spot up shooter is a really good sign for, for Coach Smith and the coaching staff. In the defensive pressure and just the focal point of defense that I know Coach Smith made this year is really, really good to see, because last year, there was just, there was a lot of times where we, you know, our defense, if it was playing well, our offense would struggle and vice versa. So being able to see our offense thrive while our defense is also playing well is really going to pay dividends when we get into the tougher part of our non-conference schedule and into Pac-12 play. And then ball pressure, again, really surprising to see Rollie just, just dominate on the defensive end, which was really, really fun to see and excited about that. Definitely very surprising. 

Stevie Shaughnessey: Speaking of Coach Smith, what do you think he needs to do this season, and what are some things that he should be focusing on? 

Kyle Garrison: Again, continue to preach defense. In college basketball, if you can create defensive pressure on guards, it’s really, really hard to beat teams, even if you’re not shooting the ball well. It’s just, it’s a dimension of a team that a lot of coaches try and preach, but they don’t preach it well enough or as consistently as they need to. So being able to, being able to make teams uncomfortable is going to, it’s going to push us to, in my opinion, could be a top four or five team in the Pac-12 early on. I know USC lost last night so things are open, things are wide open. I know Arizona is the consensus one, but there’s a lot of teams out there that, you know, I don’t think they’re going to be able to handle the pressure that Coach Smith’s team is going to be able to put on so keep, keep preaching defense, utilize bench depth. I know we’ve been doing a good job of that with Hunter Erickson, Keba Keita and Ben Carlson. We got those three guys coming off the bench, they’re playing good minutes, they’re, you know, they’re making the most of their opportunities. So, being able to have those guys come in and relieve the pressure off of some of our starters is going to be really key, especially later in the season when guys start to maybe get injured or start to get tired. So bench minutes are super huge. So these blowouts are really nice because you get some guys getting some in-game minutes in case we need them down the stretch. Another thing that I kind of noticed is Coach Smith and Rollie Worster both came over from Utah State together. He was the point guard for Utah State when Coach Smith was there, and so being able to let Rollie, kind of, make the decisions offensively and defensively is so huge because they, Coach Smith and Rollie, pretty much have the same brain. They know exactly what each other wants to do. They know their tendencies. So, having a point guard in Rollie is so huge, and just Coach Smith giving him the reins is going to pay dividends, I can promise you that. So, and then another thing I kind of noticed was maybe adding a little one-two-two press, maybe adding some zone defense, just to kind of switch things up again. I know it’s easy to run man-to-man early on in the season because the teams are a little bit worse competition, but as the season starts to pick up, and you start to play those teams that you know are just as good if not better at defense than you, got to start mixing it up. So look to, look to see Coach Smith kind of implement some more stuff like that. But yeah, I really like what he’s doing and I’m excited to see kind of what he does for the rest of the year. 

Stevie Shaughnessey: I mean, it sounds like you have really high hopes for the rest of the season. So, after seeing the first two games, how do you think the rest of the season is going to go? Do you think a Pac-12 championship is possible? 

Kyle Garrison: Um, yeah, I mean, you know, it’s – it’s never out of the question. Things are, things have happened that are crazier. Last year, we beat Arizona at home. Kind of a shock. Shocked me as well. So you never really know. I don’t – don’t think that you should, you know, our fans should expect that just because, you know, you don’t want to get let down too early on in the season. I know it’s only the first two games but, I will say we look a lot better than we did last year. I think we’re a top-five team in the Pac-12. I know they had us at number seven in the preseason polls, and I think we’re just going to kind of climb up that ladder as the season goes on and I love being the underdog. Utah is always the underdog, whether it’s football or basketball, it never really matters, and we always prove everybody wrong. So, being able to kind of have the underdog role going into each game, you know, who knows. Is Utah legit? We’ll never really know until we play some good teams. But this, this coming week is going to be pretty telling. We play an ACC team in Wake Forest that – I mean, ACC is always a powerhouse in basketball. So it’s gonna be, it’s gonna be a good test for us, and then we play some more games after that in the Charleston Classic that are really going to tell you whether or not this team is legit or not, so, excited for that. There’s a lot more than – excuse me, there’s been a lot more team basketball being played in the first two games than I’ve seen in the past three years, which is just, it helps us with being able to, like I said early on, run the fast break, just be like coexist as a group. It seemed like last year there was a lot of one-on-one ball going on. Being able to have one guy kind of run the offense is going to just help this team thrive so much more than what I saw the past two years. So just early on, I can tell there’s a lot, there’s a lot of things that Coach Smith kind of went into the offseason last year and decided that he needed to, needed to fix, and that’s exactly what he’s shown so far and what the team’s shown so far. My prediction is, you know, I think that we can make the NCAA tournament as like an 11 to a seven seed as long as we win the games that we’re supposed to. Just not be – not slipping up against the mid-major teams, and stealing a couple of Pac-12 wins against some, some opponents that maybe are supposed to beat us is going to help along the way. I think maybe five or six Pac-12 teams will make it, make the tournament this year. So, for as long as we’re in that top five or six, there’s no reason we shouldn’t be able to make it so.

Stevie Shaughnessey: Great. Well, do you have any final thoughts on the team and the rest of their season? 

Kyle Garrison: Yeah, I mean, I definitely have more confidence after seeing the first two games than I did early on in the season and, you know, last year in the year before. So, I think that there’s a lot of good things that have come out the last two games and there’s a lot of, there’s a lot of good basketball left to be played. So, you know, keep a lookout. I know we play BYU at home this year, and I’ll be in the press box. I’m going to recruit as many students as I can to go. So if you do listen to this, come out. Come out to the BYU game. Let’s fill the Huntsman Center. Let’s make it loud. It’d be really, really cool to see. I know – I know Coach Smith has really made it a priority to try and get students there. I know he last year went down to Greek Row and went to some of the fraternities to, kind of, get people on board. So if we’re winning games, I really strongly encourage people to come out because it’s a really good environment. The Huntsman’s is just a historical building, a historical stadium and I think that we’re going to be a team to really, really watch this year and so it could be a pretty fun year and I hope people really come out and show some support. 

Stevie Shaughnessey: Yeah, there weren’t a ton of people at the first game, but hopefully we’ll see more this season. So, thank you, Kyle, for coming on the podcast today. 

Kyle Garrison: Yeah, thank you for having me. Really appreciate it.

Stevie Shaughnessey: You guys can find more information on Kyle’s article under the sports section on and thank you for listening to Home Stretch, The Daily Utah Chronicle’s sports podcast. Stay tuned for new episodes coming each week.


Transcribed by

Producer and Host: Stevie Shaughnessey —  [email protected]   | @steviechrony

Guest: Kyle Garrison — [email protected] | @kgarry21

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About the Contributors
Stevie Shaughnessey, Home Stretch Producer, Host
Stevie is a junior transfer student at the U who is majoring in communications with an emphasis in journalism, and minoring in documentary studies. In her free time, Stevie likes to take part in many different activities, such as dirt bike riding, snowboarding and photography.
Kyle Garrison, Sports Writer
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.
Mary Allen, Design Director
(she/her) Born and raised in Salt Lake City, Mary is thrilled to be here at the University of Utah studying graphic design. She feels very lucky to get to rub shoulders with the talented people that make up the team here at the Chronicle and is learning a lot from them every day. Other than making things look cute, Mary’s passions include music, pickleball, Diet Coke, wildlife protection, and the Boston Red Sox.

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