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Home Stretch — Episode 11: Utah Men’s Basketball Mid-Season Recap

In this episode, sports writer and podcast host Kyle Garrison sits down to chat about what he’s seen from the Utah Men’s Basketball team on the court and who the key players are for the team.
Mary Allen
(Design by Mary Allen | The Daily Utah Chronicle)


Stevie Shaughnessey: Hi and welcome back to Home Stretch, the Daily Utah Chronicle’s sports podcast. My name is Stevie and I’ll be your host. Today, sports writer and podcast host Kyle Garrison will be joining us to give his thoughts on the recent men’s basketball games. Hi, Kyle, and welcome back to the podcast. 

Kyle Garrison: Hey, Stevie. Thanks for having me on. I appreciate it.

Stevie Shaughnessey: So after watching the recent games, such as the UCLA game and the Stanford game, do you think the Utes were nervous going into the games after two losses in a row? 

Stevie Shaughnessey: So, I mean, Utah has been playing really, really, really solid at home this year in my opinion. I think they, they’re undefeated, actually. In the road losses that we’ve had have been, have been pretty brutal. One against Arizona State and one against Arizona in the past couple of weeks. And then obviously, we had Stanford that we lost. I think going in, the guys had a little bit of nerves, but more of a sense of urgency instead of nerves, just because we came out, we looked a little flat, but coming out of that second half locker room, we just absolutely put the pedal to the metal and it seemed like nobody in the country could stop us at that point. I know Craig Smith, he really wants to make the tournament. I know Utah State this year is doing well and that’s the team he used to coach, and I know he wants to, he wants to show the rest of the country that he, he’s got a program that can compete with anybody in the country. So losing games to teams on the road, like Arizona State and Stanford, who have been inferior to Utah all year, is really a tough pill to swallow for Craig. So I know that coming into this game against UCLA, he had his, he had the guys ready, and I know practice was not easy these past couple days. So I just think that, you know, Craig wants to turn this program around, and in order to do that, you got to win on the road, so.

Stevie Shaughnessey: During the game, what were you impressed with seeing during the offensive or the defense going into halftime?

Kyle Garrison: So going into the halftime, we were only up 33-23, I believe it was, and we, we kind of came out lackluster. It didn’t seem like the guys really were fully into the game. We were, we held the Bruins at 34% shooting in the first half, which is great because I mean, in college basketball, it really comes down to shooting percentages because the turnover battle is a lot different than what it is in the NBA. So, being able to hold them to 34%, I think we were around like 38%, but you know, we only had a 10-point lead. So, I didn’t see anything particular in the first half that, you know, made me, made me think one way or the other about, you know, if this team has turned it around or not. But I did see that defense come out and play some really good ball pressure. Our big guys’ length down low was just so hard for them to contend with, and I definitely was impressed with just how we came out — even though we weren’t shooting the ball well, we were playing really hard, playing good defense, getting in transition and making it hard for the UCLA guards.

Stevie Shaughnessey: And during the UCLA game, what players stood out to the most?

Kyle Garrison: So one guy that — he’s stood out to me all year, he has just, you know, played his role perfectly — is Keba Keita. He comes in every game off the bench, this year he’s come off the bench, and he plays so hard and with so much energy. He came out, he ended up with 14 points, which was tied for the leading scorer on the team in the game. He came out, he had some monstrous dunks that got the Huntsman crowd absolutely fired up, and he just brings some energy that you don’t see from a lot of guys in college basketball, and he looks like a man out there. He is just, he’s strong, he’s athletic. It’s just really hard for some smaller, smaller forwards to guard him just because, you know, we play a lot of lineups with Branden Carlson and Keba at the same time. So you got to, you got to pick your poison. Are you going to throw a skinnier seven-footer on Keba, or are you going to throw a [6-foot-9] power forward, and regardless of who you throw on him, it’s — it’s impossible to stop him. His offensive rebounding inability, his length is just so good. And then I really liked the balanced scoring attack that we had. There was a lot of guys that got involved. We had a lot of double figure scorers, including Gabe Madsen, Branden Carlson, Cole Bajema, Keba Keita, just to name a few, and so the balanced scoring really helps us because we’re not a team that’s going to come out and just dominate you with one guy.

Stevie Shaughnessey: And speaking of scoring, the Utes, during the UCLA game, shot 50% from the field and 40% from beyond the arc. However, during Stanford, they couldn’t quite keep up with these results. Do you think that the Utes can bring, you know, kind of consistency going into the next few games they have? 

Kyle Garrison: Yeah, I think they can. Rollie Worster didn’t play against Stanford and I really think that hurt us. Deivon Smith, just want to shout him out against Stanford, he did have a triple-double, which is just the fifth in Utah Utes men’s basketball history. Unfortunately, we couldn’t come away with the win in his historic night, but I just think that utilizing those two guys, Rollie Worster has been great all year, Deivon Smith coming off injury the past couple games, has also been great. And they’re both just great playmakers, great ball handlers, they don’t turn the ball over, and just being able to utilize those guys help, let them kind of have control of the offense, let them kind of make their own plays. It’s gonna be really huge for Coach Smith in this offense, and then just finding open shooters consistently. We got guys all over the floor that can shoot. We might honestly be the best three-point shooting team in Pac-12. But you never know, really, because I mean it’s college basketball, so any given night, but when we go out every single game we look like the best three-point shooting team on the floor and that has continued throughout this entire year, and I just think that being able to let Rollie Worster and Deivon Smith control that offense, find those guys, is going to continue to help us down the stretch and on the road, because we’re, you know, we need to win some road games for sure.

Stevie Shaughnessey: So, when the Utes went on the road and lost to the Cardinal 73-79, they obviously didn’t have that crowd, that energy that they’ve been having at home. What do you think, besides this, and keeping that energy consistent, what do you think the Utes could do differently, or how could they get back on a winning streak?

Kyle Garrison: Yeah, so in my opinion, there’s, there’s only one thing that’s really hurt us on the road and that’s free-throw shooting, which is such a tedious small part of the game, but it’s so important, and we went four for 12 from free-throw against Stanford and ended up losing by six. So you know, that’s eight points right there that you’re, that you’re just missing out the line. Our shooting percentages and turnovers are all the same as they are at home. But our free throw shooting was just he’s just been really struggling on the road, and I just think you know, I mean, that’s just mental toughness, being able to shoot free throws under pressure when there’s fans screaming at you, and it’s hard for college basketball players to do. I’m not saying it’s easy, I couldn’t go out there and do it, but I know it’s just something that Craig Smith’s got to be really frustrated with, and I just think that once, if we can clean that up, there’s a lot of those road games that we’ve kind of let slip away at the end that we could, that we could, you know, come back and make a comeback, especially in the Stanford game, 1being as close as it was. So sure enough, the free throw percentage, and again, like I said earlier, kind of letting our guards control the offense and just being calm under pressure out there is going to be huge, because it seems like on the road, we seem a little bit flustered, and if we can kind of clean that up, there’s a lot of road games left that we, that we can win for sure.

Stevie Shaughnessey: And kind of speaking of specific players, like I know you’ve been talking about like what the Utes need to do better. They have been doing great this year. They’ve been doing a lot better than previous years. Currently, Branden Carlson moved his career total blocks to 212 and is now just eight blocks away from breaking the school record. How do you think this type of talent is helping our team this year and is pushing us up the rankings?

Kyle Garrison: Yeah, so I’ve preached it all year long. This, this frontcourt length that we have is so hard for teams to contend with having two seven footers, and then Keba Keita coming off the bench who I think is sitting around like [6-foot-10]. But he plays like he’s [7-foot-3]. It’s really, really hard to contend with, and then you got a guy like Branden Carlson. So yeah, he has 212 blocks in his career, which is absolutely unbelievable. And you know, he’s a senior, he’s a leader, he’s a fifth-year, he’s from Utah, he knows the system, and I just think that being able to have that defensive presence is just as important as or even more important than the offensive presence that Brandon Carlsen brings to the table. I just, I know that he’s mostly known for his just great shooting ability, ability to shoot over the top of the defense. But, when you have that length down low at center, it’s so hard for teams to shoot over, especially at the college level. So I know Brandon, he’s going to be gone after this year. But the things that he’s done at this program have been absolutely astronomical, and I’m just so, I’m so glad I’m able to, to watch him progress and watch him become the absolute dominant player that he’s become. So, we’re definitely gonna miss him. But you know, we got some young guys too that are going to be coming in and trying to fill in those roles and I’m excited for the future as well.

Stevie Shaughnessey: Great, thank you, Kyle. Do you have any other thoughts?

Kyle Garrison: Yeah, I mean, I just think that this team has a lot of potential. We’ve looked really, really good in some of these games this year, and I think if we can start putting that together, this team can make a run. This team can contend for the Pac-12 in my opinion, and we’ve got some, we got some tough games coming up and then we play Oregon and Arizona both at home, which is really nice, coming up here in the next couple of weeks, so I think just keep looking out for this team. Don’t sleep on them now, because I’m telling you, down the stretch, I know Coach Craig Smith is an absolutely phenomenal coach, and I think that he’s going to have these guys ready, going into the Pac-12 tournament and going into the NCAA tournament to, to really make some noise and and do some things that Utah basketball hasn’t done in quite some time, so I’m really excited to see what goes down and definitely, definitely excited for these upcoming big matchups against some really solid opponents.

Stevie Shaughnessey: Awesome. Thank you so much for your insights, Kyle.

Kyle Garrison: Yeah, I appreciate you. Thank you so much for having me on, again. I love coming on here and talking about Utah basketball.

Stevie Shaughnessey: Thank you for listening to Home Stretch, the Daily Utah Chronicle’s sports podcast. Stay tuned for new episodes coming every other week and make sure to go check out Kyle’s articles on the Daily Utah Chronicle’s website.

Transcribed by

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

Guest and Host: Kyle Garrison — [email protected] | @Kylegarr23

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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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