The night before the Runnin’ Utes took on Washington State in the Huntsman Center earlier this month, Utes center Branden Carlson suffered an appendicitis attack that would cause him to miss not only the game against the Cougars, but the next four after that.

Utes on the air

Utah (8-12, 1-9)

at Washington State (10-7, 3-3)

Wednesday, 8 p.m. MST

At Beasley Coliseum

TV: Pac-12 Networks

Radio: ESPN 700 AM

Round II of the Utah-Wazzu series takes place Wednesday night at Beasley Coliseum in Pullman, Washington (8 p.m. MST, Pac-12 Networks), and once again a lot of the pregame focus is centered on the 7-footer’s condition.

Will Carlson play?

That was the first question asked of Utah coach Craig Smith late Tuesday morning at his weekly news conference on campus. The answer is maybe.

“I think there is a chance, for sure,” Smith said. “We certainly feel better about (Carlson playing) Saturday than Wednesday. But there is definitely a chance he could play, depending on how things go.”

Utah (8-12, 1-9) will return to Salt Lake City from Pullman after Wednesday’s game, then return to the state Friday for Saturday’s matchup with the Huskies in Seattle (3 p.m. MST, Pac-12 Networks).

The Runnin’ Utes were swept by the Washington schools on Jan. 6 and 8 for the first time ever at home. Prospects for revenge don’t look great — unless Carlson is available and quickly returns to his pre-appendectomy form.

“I think there is a chance, for sure. We certainly feel better about (Carlson playing) Saturday than Wednesday. But there is definitely a chance he could play, depending on how things go.” — Utah basketball coach Craig Smith

“He did some noncontact stuff (Monday), so we will see how things go today,” Smith said.

Washington State (10-7, 3-3) has played only twice since winning 77-61 at Utah, losing to Stanford 62-57 and defeating Cal 65-57 in Pullman the following week.

Last week’s scheduled games at Oregon and Oregon State were postponed due to COVID-19 issues within Wazzu’s program.

Smith said Carlson, who has played in 13 of Utah’s 20 games and is the team’s leading scorer with a 13.5 average, didn’t do anything the first week after his appendectomy. The second week, he made the trip to Arizona and Arizona State and watched both losses from the bench.

On Tuesday (after returning the night before from Tempe), he started doing some simple things while the Utes were practicing, such as walking up and down the stairs in the Huntsman Center.

“It was literally a step-by-step process,” Smith said.

Late last week, he did some light weightlifting under the direction of head athletic trainer Trevor Jameson and strength and conditioning coach Logan Ogden. 

“Hopefully today, we will see if he can go live or not … and if he feels good, I think we are going to be able to roll tomorrow,” Smith said.

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The coach said there is “no question” that Carlson wants to get back out there and help the Utes snap their eight-game losing streak, their longest since the 2011-12 season.

“Obviously, his talent level speaks for itself. But he is a smart player. And he is a tough player,” Smith said. “… He has displayed nothing but toughness and grit since we have been here, in every way, shape and form, both mentally and physically.”

Carlson showed that when he sustained a sprained ankle seven minutes into the Dec. 1 game at USC and returned four days later and played 21 minutes against California. Then he missed two games — Missouri and Fresno State — with COVID-19.

“So, I was really curious, though, because (appendicitis) is a different type of injury, about how eager he would be to get back,” Smith said. “And he has shown nothing but, ‘I want to play, I want to play as soon as possible. If I am cleared, I am going to give everything I have got, and go from there.’”

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If Carlson is back, Smith will finally have 14 healthy players to pick from since starter Marco Anthony suffered an ankle injury in Game 5 against Tulsa on Nov. 21 — more than two months ago.

“I feel way more comfortable with where we are at today than two weeks ago, no question,” Smith said. “I don’t think there is any doubt about that. And for the most part, we really know who we need to play.”

Washington State is led in scoring by Michael Flowers (13.2 ppg.), Noah Williams (11.8) and Tyrell Roberts (10.8). The Cougars play more deliberately than most teams in the Pac-12, and are averaging just 64.8 points per game.

In their win at the Huntsman Center, the Cougars took a 40-30 halftime lead and got 17 points from Roberts in winning for the first time in Salt Lake City since 1946.

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