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Utah Men’s Basketball Narrowly Escapes Upset in Win Over Southern Utah

With Branden Carlson out, it was up to the rest of the Utes to withstand a strong performance from the Thunderbirds. They won 88-86.
Utah+guard+Cole+Bajema+%282%29+in+the+game+versus+Hawaii+Rainbow+Warriors+at+the+Delta+Center+in+Salt+Lake+City+on+Nov.+30+2023.+%28Photo+by+Mary+Allen+%7C+The+Daily+Utah+Chronicle%29
Mary Allen
Utah guard Cole Bajema (2) in the game versus Hawai’i Rainbow Warriors at the Delta Center in Salt Lake City on Nov. 30 2023. (Photo by Mary Allen | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

 

Utah men’s basketball headed into Tuesday night’s matchup against Southern Utah looking to secure what they thought would be a fairly easy win before Saturday’s crucial game against BYU. Utah came into this one without star center Branden Carlson out with an injury, and it was evident that the team missed his senior leadership. The Utes escaped 88-86, avoiding what could have been a disastrous loss just four days before taking on the undefeated BYU Cougars.

First Half

Early on in the first half, the absence of Carlson was evident on both ends of the floor for the Utes. Throughout the first 20 minutes, Utah struggled to get stops defensively, giving up 40 points to a Southern Utah team that has had a hard time finding a rhythm offensively all year. Fortunately for the Utes, the team was able to put up 47 points of their own in the first half, led by 13 points and six rebounds from Keba Keita off the bench. Without Carlson in the lineup for the Utes, other players needed to step up on the offensive end in a big way.

Utah was led by a well-balanced offensive attack through the first half, seeing six different Utes score five or more points. Utah shot 60% from the field throughout the first 20 minutes to help pace their 47 points as a team. Defensively, the Utes gave up too many open looks to the Thunderbirds, and they were able to capitalize throughout half number one. The Utah defense would need to lock in defensively in the second half if they wanted to avoid the upset.

Second Half

The Utah defense continued to struggle in the second half, allowing three southern Utah players to reach the 20-point mark. The defensive ball pressure was not nearly as suffocating as it had been early on in the season, and the Utes struggled to pull away from a tenacious Southern Utah team.

At the 16:14 mark of the second half, Utah went on a massive scoring run, taking a 59-42 lead. This seemed to be the spark that Utah needed to run away with this one, but Southern Utah had enough fight to claw their way back into the game. The Thunderbirds continued to chip away at the Ute lead, getting timely stops on defense and making smart offensive decisions. The steadily improving free throw shooting for Utah ended up being the difference maker in this one, as they knocked down some timely shots at the foul line down the stretch and were able to sneak away with the 88-86 victory.

The Thunderbirds outscored Utah 46-41 in the second half, giving the Utah faithful quite the scare on a night where many expected the Utes to dominate from start to finish.

Despite the lackluster defensive effort, Utah was able to score at will for the majority of this game, which was just enough to hold off a Southern Utah team that showed no signs of backing down to a superior opponent.

Utes Stuffing the Stat Sheet

Keita led the Utes in scoring, recording an impressive stat line of 23 points on 11-12 shooting, eight rebounds, two steals, and two blocks — all while coming off the bench. Another Ute that shined in this one was Gabe Madsen, who led the starters in scoring, tallying 19 points. Ben Carlson recorded a season-high of 15 points on an efficient 6-8 shooting and added a team-high of 10 rebounds to secure his first double-double as a Ute. Ben Carlson started tonight in place of Branden Carlson and played his best game of the season thus far. Senior point guard Rollie Worster put on an offensive clinic for the Utes, securing a double-double in points and assists. Worster finished the night with 12 points and a whopping 10 assists to lead Utah.

What’s Next for the Utes

Utah will take on BYU on Saturday, December 9th, at the John M. Huntsman Center at 5:00 p.m. MST. The Cougars come into Salt Lake with an undefeated record on the line and are ranked number 14 in the country. Utah will look to play spoiler in one of the biggest games of the early season.

 

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@Kylegarr23

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About the Contributors
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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    Barbara KammeraadDec 9, 2023 at 7:07 am

    Great article!!

    Reply