SALT LAKE CITY — In a hot-and-cold performance, Utah squeaked out an overtime win, 64-56, at home against the visiting Stanford Cardinal on Thursday night, ending a two-game losing streak for the Utes.
The Cardinal, which entered the night on a high after an upset win over No. 11 Oregon last week, failed to overcome a Utah (13-9, 4-6) team that couldn’t piece together a consistent effort and several long-term scoring droughts for a majority of the night.
After trailing by double digits in the first half, Stanford (16-6, 5-4) pulled ahead by 1 point with 55 seconds left in regulation on a Tyrell Terry 3-pointer. Utah sophomore Timmy Allen hit 1 of 2 free-throws attempts to tie it up with 3.9 seconds left in the game, and Stanford missed a deep 3-point attempt to send the game into overtime.
In overtime, Utah’s shots started falling as the team outscored the Cardinal 14-6 in the five-minute period to claim the win. Utah had center Branden Carlson to thank, as the freshman padded the stat sheet in his best game as a Ute. The freshman finished with a team-high 15 points, 10 rebounds and eight blocks.
Carlson’s interior defense limited Stanford’s ability to hit buckets close to the rim and gave the Utes what it needed late in the game to stave off a Cardinal run.
"Brandon was unbelievable — almost a triple double, protected the rim for us," Utah head coach Larry Krystkowiak said about his freshman center. "I thought it was huge."
He added that Carlson is starting to get more comfortable in his playing as he sees more minutes on the court, which has translated to improved play over the last few weeks of conference play.
"He's been through a lot of those battles and played a lot of minutes, and I think he's starting to respond and kind of find his sea legs," Krystkowiak said. "He looks very comfortable out there."
Allen, who has been the team’s leading scorer this season, added 15 points on 3-of-10 shooting and four rebounds in the win. Allen has struggled to consistently score in double figures the last two weeks as teams have double- and triple-teamed the sophomore.
Utah opened up the game hot and jumped to an early 21-11 lead in the first five minutes and scored at a 75% shooting clip on a pass-first mentality. Carlson started out with 6 of the team’s first 8 points as the Utes controlled the early matchup.
Utah took that intensity over to the defensive side of the ball where the team had a stout interior defense and had active hands to force an early five turnovers.
But in an instant, the Utes ceased to maintain that same intensity and overall aggressiveness.
The Utes committed their first of 10 first-half turnovers eight minutes into the game and then it was like opening up the floodgates as the turnovers mounted. Meanwhile, Utah failed to make a shot in the final 10 minutes of the first half and made only one field goal out of its last 13 attempts in the half.
The Utes' only points in the final 10 minutes of the first half came from the free-throw line — a total of two made free throws out of four attempts. But as bad as Utah was from the field, Stanford couldn’t capitalize and still trailed by 6 points at the halftime break.
Utah was without sophomore guard Both Gach for the third consecutive game due to a nagging ankle injury. In his absence, Jaxon Brenchley has gotten the start and has been a serviceable guard on the floor. He scored 6 points, including a clutch 3-pointer in overtime, in 31 minutes against the Cardinal.
The Utes return to action Saturday at the Huntsman Center when they welcome California to town in a 6 p.m. tipoff.