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Runnin’ Utes give good effort but ultimately lose to Missouri

SHARE Runnin’ Utes give good effort but ultimately lose to Missouri
Missouri’s Kobe Brown, right, drives past Utah’s Rollie Worster, left.

Missouri’s Kobe Brown, right, drives past Utah’s Rollie Worster, left, during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Dec. 18, 2021, in Columbia, Mo.

L.G. Patterson, Associated Press

The Utah Runnin’ Utes had a surprise for the Missouri Tigers when they walked on the court Saturday afternoon.

When the teams left two hours later, everyone was talking about the bombshell the Tigers dropped on Utah to win the nonconference game 83-75 at Mizzou Arena in Columbia, Missouri.

Utah entered the arena without Branden Carlson, who stayed behind in Salt Lake City due to health and safety protocols related to the coronavirus, and coach Craig Smith had to employ a defensive strategy to try to help his already shorthanded team defend Missouri’s athletic 6-foot-8 center Kobe Brown.

“Branden is a big-time player and we’ve all seen his productivity,” Smith said. “He is our leading scorer and passes well. He is a pressure reliever. He’s anchored us at spots, but that’s how it goes.”

So the Utes abandoned their normal man-to-man pressure for a 1-3-1 zone, and it worked … for a time.

Brown still finished with 27 points, but it was a 3-pointer by Jarron Coleman with 32 seconds left that proved to be the difference as the Tigers bounced back from a demoralizing loss to Kansas and sent the Utes away still without a road win going into full-time Pac-12 Conference play.

“We knew it would be difficult to play an SEC opponent in a road game,” Smith said. “We wanted to pack the paint and own the paint and make them beat us from out there (at the perimeter).”

Missouri was 2 for 19 from 3-point land until Ronnie DeGray hit a shot from long range after Utah had taken a five-point lead with less than seven minutes left.

After that, Brown scored the Tigers’ next 10 points, and then fed Coleman at the top of the key to extend Missouri’s lead to 78-73.

The Utes, who shot 40% (10 of 25) from 3-point range and made 17 of 21 free throws on an unfamiliar floor, could not respond.

They fell to 7-4, but Smith said he saw several positives while sometimes having five guards on the floor at one time.

“Basketball is a beautiful game, right? There’s a lot of ways to win, but obviously it’s a rhythm game and timing game,” he said.

“With the situation we’ve had the last three weeks (with injuries and depth problems), we worked on (adjusting the lineup) a lot this week. I don’t think we’ve ever practiced with a guard as a rim protector, but you do what you have to do.

“For a stretch (early in the second half), the only time they scored was when we fouled,” he added. “To their credit, they stuck two big 3s. You’ve got to find a way to win.”

Smith was also pleased with his team’s effort, especially senior guard David Jenkins, who adjusted to his new role coming off the bench with a team-high 18 points.

Marco Anthony, who replaced Jenkins in the starting lineup, had 16 points and eight rebounds and provided a big offensive spark in the first half, when Utah took a 33-32 lead into the locker room.

Both Gach added 15 and made six straight free throws in the second half.

“A different look is a good thing,” Smith said. “It’s a way to allow our team to have the most success. David produced in a great way. He came out with a great look in his eyes.”

“We played hard. We gave it all we could,” Jenkins said. “We played a really good 35 minutes (out of 40).”

Amari Davis had 17 points for Missouri, which improved its record to 6-5 but, like Utah, also hasn’t learned how to win on the road.

The Utes return to action Tuesday night at home against Fresno State before beginning their stretch of Pac-12 games.