How the Runnin’ Utes ‘got the monkey off our backs’ at Stanford
Freshman Gabe Madsen’s 3-pointer with under two minutes remaining broke a 54-54 tie and helped Utah win in front of a hostile crowd for the time since 2019.
The Runnin’ Utes won a close game Thursday night.
On the road.
In the Pac-12.
Against a team that entered the contest still alive for an at-large berth in the NCAA Tournament.
Will the 60-56 win over the Stanford Cardinal in front of an announced crowd of 2,437 at Maples Pavilion turn Utah’s season around?
Maybe, maybe not.
But the Utes (10-16, 3-13) are going to enjoy this one for as long as possible, because they got the proverbial monkey off their backs in a variety of ways.
“Well, it is a good win for the Utes. Obviously, it has been awhile, winning on the road, a true road game. What a great team effort.” — Utah basketball coach Craig Smith.
“It feels great,” said point guard Rollie Worster. “Obviously we were super happy in the locker room.”
And why not?
It was their first true road win of the season, and their first Pac-12 road win since a 76-75 victory at Cal on Feb. 11, 2021.
It was Utah’s first win in front of a hostile crowd — although it is stretch to say the sparse crowd gave Stanford anything close to a home-crowd advantage — since it downed Nevada in Reno on Nov. 5, 2019.
“Well, it is a good win for the Utes,” said coach Craig Smith. “Obviously, it has been awhile, winning on the road, a true road game. What a great team effort.”
The Utes won it by going on a 12-2 run over the final four minutes, 57 seconds of the game, and holding Stanford to just one field goal in the final nine-plus minutes. Stanford had been killing the Utes on the offensive glass before then, but that dried up and the Utes made more plays down the stretch for one of the few times this season.
“We just kind of hung around and hung around, and that’s what you gotta do on the road, and we were able to find a way to win,” Smith said. “We stopped them on nine of the last 11 possessions.”
Stanford (15-11, 8-8) rolled out to a 28-21 halftime lead in the grinder, as both teams struggled to get much going offensively.
After failing to record a single assist in the first half, the Utes got one on their first possession of the second, as Marco Anthony fed Gabe Madsen for a 3-pointer. Madsen hit another triple a few minutes later to pull the Utes within two, but the Utes would fall behind by as many as nine before making their spirited comeback.
“I think the way we battled as a team, and being down the majority of the game, and being able to come back like that, and finishing the game strong, and to be able to do it on the road, I think gives us a lot of confidence,” said Worster, who had 11 points and six rebounds.
Madsen’s third 3-pointer was even bigger than the first two.
With the game tied at 54-54 and the shot clock winding down, the freshman hit a huge step-back 3-pointer with 1:45 left to give the Utes their first lead since six minutes remained in the first half. Stanford led for more than 30 minutes, Utah for just over six.
It was a huge reversal from last Saturday’s game at Colorado, where Utah controlled the lead most of the way but faltered in the end. Not this time.
“Our guys were able to find him with two seconds left (on the shot clock) and he just rose into a step-in 3, which is (a good rhythm shot), so hopefully that is a sign of things to come,” Smith said. “Obviously his nine points in the second half were big for the Utes.”
Moments later, after Stanford missed back-to-back 3-point attempts, Both Gach nailed a couple free throws with 29 seconds left, and the Utes could think about celebrating.
Gach came up huge on both ends of the floor in the final few minutes, making a layup after a Madsen steal and assist to get the Utes within two, then coming up with a huge block at the rim with around three minutes remaining.
“Everybody will talk about Gabe’s 3, but Both’s (defense) was just as big,” Smith said, noting that the Minnesota transfer had an excellent week of practice since the Utes lost that heartbreaker at Colorado last Saturday.
Branden Carlson started the big run in the final five minutes with a dunk when Stanford came out of a timeout in a zone, and finished with 13 points and four boards. Gach added 13, while Marco Anthony led all rebounders with 12.
“It was truly a team win in every way,” Smith said.
The first half will not make any Utah highlight reels — at least on offense.
The Utes put together a 9-0 run to take a 13-12 lead with 10:22 left, then went cold. Really, really cold.
Stanford wasn’t much better, going more than five minutes without scoring at one stretch in the first half, then scored six straight points on offensive rebounds, and that seemed to wake up the Cardinal a bit.
Spencer Jones’ 3-pointer, Stanford’s fourth triple of the first half, gave the Cardinal a 28-21 lead at the break.
The Utes gave up nine second-chance points in the first half, and also committed seven turnovers. Worse, they misfired near the rim several times in the first half, and finished the first 20 minutes shooting 38%.
Neither team attempted a free throw in the first half. No Ute scored more than five points (Both Gach) in the first half.
The Utes were 1 of 9 from deep in the first half; Stanford was 4 of 15. Different story in the final 20 minutes.
Credit Smith and his staff for making the better halftime adjustments. Utah stopped forcing shots against the taller Cardinal, instead relying on weapons such as Madsen and Worster from behind the arc.
“In a game where the total number of points are 116, points aren’t coming easy.” Smith said. “And they are hard to run on. We knew that coming in. They are hard to get second chance points on. You have to make some 3s on these guys because it is hard to score in the paint.”
Utah ended up outscoring Stanford 26-22 in the paint, as the outside shooting — and Stanford going to a zone a couple times — somehow opened up things for Carlson and company down low.
“It just feels really good for our team, and our morale, especially getting ready for the next couple of games, and going into the (Pac-12) tournament,” Worster said. “We take it one game at a time, but yeah, in a sense, we got the monkey off our backs, for sure.”
Utah plays at Cal on Saturday afternoon. The Bears fell at home to Colorado Thursday night.