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Upset City: Carlson scores 22 points as Runnin' Utes upset No. 4 Wildcats


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SALT LAKE CITY β€” Branden Carlson called game Thursday night.

As many Utah fans were en route to Las Vegas to watch the football team take on USC in the program's fourth Pac-12 championship appearance in five seasons, the Huntsman Center was rocking to open up conference play for the men's basketball team. And it had its 7-foot center to thank for much of it.

Carlson opened up Utah's first conference game of the season against No. 4 Arizona with 8 of the team's 10 points to set an early tone, and finished with 22 points, which included five made 3-pointers, to send the Wildcats home with a 81-66 loss β€” its first loss of the season.

"Well that's a big time win," Utah head coach Craig Smith said. "Arizona for our program, what a great win. Arizona is so good.

"BC just had a great look in his eyes tonight. I mean, he just had a look, like you would expect out of an all-league guy, in a fourth-year guy. And those guys β€” everybody wants to be the man until it's time to be the man; and when you're the man, you've got to show up every day, and you're gonna get everybody's best punch β€” but he just had a big time look in his eyes."

Carlson opened up the game with a block against an undefeated Arizona (6-1, 0-1 Pac-12) team coming off a Maui Invitational championship and then followed it up on the other end with a 3-pointer to give Utah (6-2, 1-0 Pac-12) its first points of the game.

His early-game effort set the tone for the Runnin' Utes Thursday night and gave Utah the quick punch it needed as it led wire-to-wire against last season's defending champs of the Pac-12.

Behind Carlson's initial 8 points, Utah built up a 17-point halftime lead, the first against a top-5 opponent since the 1996-97 season, and had all the momentum going into the second half against the Wildcats, who shot just 27% from the field in the first half and had 11 turnovers that resulted in 15 points for Utah.

But there was still 20 minutes of game time left to be played, and Arizona wasn't going to let the game slip away that easily.

Arizona came out of the halftime break focused and ready for a comeback. The visiting team cut Utah's lead down to as low as 6 points, but Utah weathered the surge. Gabe Madsen hit a 3-pointer to give Utah a double-digit lead again, and then Carlson followed it up with a shot-clock beating deep 3-pointer to extend the lead to 14 points.

"Boy, did he make some monster shots tonight," Smith said of Carlson's shot. "I mean, the one right in front of our bench. ... That was a monster shot for us."

Utah locked in on defense and then Madsen side-stepped a defender and quickly threw up a 3-pointer he made as the defender got back and fouled him. The shot pushed Utah's lead up to a game-high 20 points and it staved off an early second-half Arizona surge.

From there, it was just a matter of draining the clock.

Except, the Wildcats never went away. Arizona cut Utah's lead back down to 9 points with four minutes left to play on a 10-0 run over a two-minute stretch on the shoulders of center Oumar Ballo and forward Azuolas Tubelis, who combined for 42 points and 13 rebounds in the loss.

But Utah staved off defeat as it played keep away for much of the shot clock and held onto a win.

"I felt like they had all the momentum there, but our guys really responded and found a way to win," Smith said.

Though Carlson finished with a team-high 22 points, Rollie Worster was everything the team needed him to be to keep pace against Arizona. Worster finished with 12 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists for a near triple-double in the win.

"I don't really stat watch or anything like that," Worster said. "A couple people came up to me after the game. I just think it's a credit to my teammates. A lot of people boxed out hard, I was able to clean up the boards, and then people made tough shots for me. I just think we played an overall great game β€” really physical game."

Madsen finished with 11 points, three assists and two rebounds, and Ben Carlson added another 11 points and six rebounds in the win.

"It was just exciting. It was a battle all game," Branden Carlson said. "We would get the lead, they'd cut it down; we'd get the lead again and they'd cut it down. So when you just saw those last final seconds go off, it was great. They're an amazing team, great program, coached really well, played very hard. And so just to be able to get this win, start off Pac-12 conference play on a win, it's just great."

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Josh is the Sports Director for KSL.com and beat writer of University of Utah athletics β€” primarily football, men’s basketball and gymnastics. He is also an Associated Press Top 25 voter for college football.

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