Facebook Twitter

‘Disappointed, but certainly not discouraged’: Runnin’ Utes vow to keep the faith after 4th-straight Pac-12 loss

Utah will probably be without star center Branden Carlson when it takes on Arizona State on Thursday in Tempe, Arizona, and hasn’t lost five straight games since 2013.

SHARE ‘Disappointed, but certainly not discouraged’: Runnin’ Utes vow to keep the faith after 4th-straight Pac-12 loss
Utah Utes head coach Craig Smith and players react to game action against the Washington State Cougars.

Utah Utes head coach Craig Smith and players react to game action against the Washington State Cougars at the Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Jan. 8, 2022. Utah lost 77-61, suffering its fourth-straight setback in the Pac-12.

Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

The adversity that has accompanied the University of Utah’s men’s basketball team this season is wearing on the Runnin’ Utes, coach Craig Smith acknowledged Saturday night after Washington State defeated Utah for the first time in the last 14 matchups between the schools.

But that doesn’t mean the squad or its coaches are ready to throw in the towel, said Smith, who likes to mix in some boxing analogies when he discusses basketball and the toughness required to survive in the Pac-12.

“Disappointed, but certainly not discouraged,” Smith said after the Utes fell to 1-5 in Pac-12 play, 8-8 overall, and were swept at the Huntsman Center by the Washington schools for the first time ever.

Utah has lost four straight games for the first time since last January, when it fell to UCLA and USC on the road and Oregon and Colorado at home in what turned out to be coach Larry Krystkowiak’s final season.

“I mean, it is sad, for sure, that (Branden Carlson) has to go through what he is going through. It really has an impact on our team, because he is one of the best guys, one of the leaders of our team, and for him to go out suddenly, it kinda hits a little bit.” — Utah senior guard Marco Anthony

Of course, they’ve been riddled by injuries and illnesses that have caused them to be shorthanded in almost every game this season. The latest setback came Friday night when star center Branden Carlson suffered an appendicitis attack.

Carlson underwent an emergency appendectomy on Saturday, according to a post on Twitter by his father, Bryan Carlson. Smith didn’t have a timeline for Branden Carlson’s return Saturday night, but recovery time for appendectomies us usually between two and four weeks, according to medicinenet.com.

That means Carlson, Utah’s leading scorer with a 13.3 average, will almost certainly miss games at Arizona State (5-8, 1-2) on Thursday and No. 8 Arizona (12-1, 2-0) on Saturday. Utah hosts two more nationally ranked teams, UCLA and USC, the following week.

“It is never easy losing a guy,” Smith said. “You just feel bad for Branden, because (of) the improvements he made over the summer, and then the fall. We all saw that firsthand, in the weight room, with his agility, and obviously his skill level, and so that is hard on everybody. It is certainly hard on him.”

Winning at ASU, which hasn’t played since Jan. 2 because of COVID issues, becomes huge for the Utes, who haven’t lost five straight since January of 2013, Krystkowiak’s second season on the hill. They might not be favored to win a game again until Feb. 19 at California, the team they beat 66-58 in early December to get their first and only Pac-12 win in Smith’s first season.

“I mean, it is sad, for sure, that (Carlson) has to go through what he is going through,” said senior guard Marco Anthony. “It really has an impact on our team, because he is one of the best guys, one of the leaders of our team, and for him to go out suddenly, it kinda hits a little bit.”

Smith said the Utes, whose NET ranking has slipped to No. 121, refuse to let all the bad breaks become an excuse for their midseason struggles. They’ve lost eight of their last 11 games since that promising 5-0 start when they were mostly healthy.

“You just gotta keep chopping wood, keep throwing the axe,” Smith said. “You can’t chop down the tree with one big flailing swoop. You just gotta keep on grinding. We haven’t told the guys this yet, but tough times don’t last. Tough people do.”

Arizona State is also battling its share of adversity. The 74-50 loss at California on Jan. 2 was the Sun Devils’ only game since a 66-65 loss to San Francisco at home on Dec. 19. ASU’s games against UCLA and Arizona last week were postponed, as was a Dec. 30 game at USC.

Anthony, who has also missed significant playing time this season with an ankle injury, said the Utes are getting good at adopting a “next man up” mentality.

Utah, ASU TV

Utes, Sun Devils on the air


Utah (8-8, 1-5) vs. Arizona State (5-8, 1-2)

Thursday, 7 p.m. MST

At Desert Financial Arena, Tempe, Arizona

TV: Pac-12 Networks

Radio: ESPN 700 AM


“I just try to stay in the moment,” Anthony said of the prospects of facing tough opponents the next four games as COVID continues to disrupt schedules. “We prepare as hard as we can to be ready for it if there is a game. And when the time comes and it is game time and game day and we find out it is canceled, it sucks. But for now we are just staying in the moment.”

Smith said the Utes were getting Carlson some work in practice at the four spot — power forward — before he fell ill. Post players Dusan Mahorcic and Lahat Thioune combined to play 34 minutes against WSU, with Thioune getting the start and scoring six points on 3 of 3 shooting.

“We have some guys that have been through the ringer before, and understand winning,” Smith said. “And we have some guys that don’t. We are going to find out a lot about our character, and our resiliency.

“We have been through a lot now, for the last six weeks, it feels like, and our guys have been steadfast. … We are going to find out who’s got the maturity, and who is going to fight for it and who is going to kind of go through the motions. So, who knows?”

Utes, Sun Devils on the air

Utah (8-8, 1-5) vs. Arizona State (5-8, 1-2)

Thursday, 7 p.m. MST

At Desert Financial Arena, Tempe, Arizona

TV: Pac-12 Networks

Radio: ESPN 700 AM