The Utah Utes used a late first half surge and fought off the late rallies from the Washington State Cougars for a 77-63 victory.
Utah (13-7, 6-3 in Pac-12) benefitted from a near flawless first half from big man Branden Carlson. The seven foot senior shot a perfect eight of eight from the field and hit all three of his treys for a whopping 21 first half points. WSU (9-11, 4-5) fought hard late in the game, but the Utes pulled away in the final minutes.
The first half was a highlight tape for Carlson. He scored eight of the first 16 points for the Utes to open a 16-8 lead. D.J. Rodman knocked home a three to kickstart a 7-0 Cougar run to pull back within a point. The Utes countered with a 9-0 run to end their three minute scoring drought. The game of runs kept true as Jabe Mullins delivered three straight makes before passing the torch on to Mouhamed Gueye for a five point run of his own. The Cougars 14-4 run was capped off with a pair of Dylan Darling free throws to tie the game at 29 with 2:54 remaining in the first half.
WSU hoped to be heading into the half locked in a close one, or better yet, leading. Then, Carlson reappeared. The South Jordan, Utah native couldn’t be stopped. His shot was true on back-to-back three point attempts, got a pair of free throws to fall and capped off his personal 10-0 run of dominance with a dunk. Adrame Diongue got a lay-up before the horn. The once tied game, was a distant memory — thanks to the Carlson run — Utah led by eight at halftime.
Utah rode the momentum right out of the locker room. The Utes jumped on the Cougars early and often to open the second half, scoring their first seven points either in the paint or at the charity stripe. The Utah opening run rolled to 14-4 as Gabe Madsen extended the Utah to 14.
Carlson finally missed on his first second half shot attempt — a three from the top of the arc — with just over 12 minutes remaining in the game. The Utes shooting began to cool off and the turnovers ramped up, but even with the breaks on the other end, WSU couldn’t get their own shots to fall to chew into the Utah lead. After multiple exchanges of empty possessions, WSU began to break through. The Cougars slowly began to shave points off the lead with 6-0 run with Utah failing to score for nearly four minutes again. After the Utes broke their drought with a Carlson dunk, the Cougars went on another run with a Darling three and Gueye jumper to pull within five. The game of runs continued again with Utah’s counter-punch being a a 7-0 run to push the lead back up to 12. Naturally, it was WSU’s turn to counter, pulling back within eight. With five and a half minutes to go, Gueye drove to the rack and drew two free throws to pull back within six.
Trying to cut the lead to four, Gueye again attacked Carlson with an aggressive drive to the hoop, getting Carlson to draw his fourth foul. The foul was ruled a foul before the shot, negating Gueye’s chance for an and-one. WSU ended up turning the ball over shortly after the inbound, leading to a fast break bucket for the Utes and extending the lead back up to eight.
After the four minute mark timeout, Gueye tried to go right at Carlson, looking to lure him into his fifth foul. Carlson pinned Gueye to the baseline, but Gueye made a remarkable pass, whipping it around Carlson’s body to a cutting Carlos Rosario, who drew a foul. Rosario got one of two free throws to fall to cut the lead to seven with 3:11 remaining. However, Utah put any hopes of a WSU comeback to bed quickly a 9-0 dagger run, highlighted by a Lazar Stefanovic three and a ridiculous Carlson bank shot.
The Cougars will hope to salvage a win in the mountain road trip on Sunday afternoon in Boulder against the Colorado Buffaloes.