Runnin’ Utes bury historic losing streak with a momentum-turning drubbing of woeful Oregon State
Smiles returned to the Huntsman Center Thursday night as Utah made 15 3-pointers and routed the Beavers to end their 10-game losing streak
Utah and Oregon State looked like a couple of teams heading in the same direction — downward — prior to Thursday night’s encounter at the Huntsman Center.
After arguably the Utes’ best effort of the season, an effort that snapped their program-record 10-game losing skid, it is just the Beavers who are free-falling. And suddenly Utah is looking like a team that, well, could play the spoiler role in February and perhaps do some damage at the Pac-12 tournament in March.
Utah made a season-high 15 3-pointers, played like a team that should be closer to the top of the Pac-12 standings than the rock-bottom, and strolled to a streak-busting 84-59 win in front of an announced crowd of 7,388 fans on a frigid night in Salt Lake City.
“It’s amazing. I can smile now,” said freshman guard Lazar Stefanovic, who led the Utes (9-14, 2-11) with 15 points and also grabbed eight rebounds and had four assists.
Not only did the Utes end the longest losing streak in program history, they avoided the dubious distinction of being the only Utah team to lose five straight games at home.
“Well, I like February a lot better than January, I will start with that,” said coach Craig Smith.
Branden Carlson and Both Gach posted double-doubles — the first time two Utes had double-doubles on the same night since 2020 — and Utah was never threatened against a Beavers team that drubbed them 88-76 in Corvallis on Dec. 30.
“I think (the losing streak) made us so much stronger, and so much better, and we improved tremendously during this stretch,” Stefanovic said, adding that the fact that the Utes didn’t fold and pack it in this season “shows our character.”
Carlson, who missed the game at Gill Coliseum, dominated inside with 12 points and 10 rebounds, his first double-double since the championship game of the Sunshine Slam in November.
“We are a different team when BC is on the floor,” Smith said.
Gach had 11 points and a career-high 10 assists.
“Man, it feels good,” Gach said. “We haven’t won for a long time, but we keep fighting and working hard, and stayed the course. This team easily could have given up, but we didn’t. Great things happen when you work hard, and you end up with a win, so it feels good.”
Rollie Worster chipped in 13 points, five assists and four rebounds, while David Jenkins Jr. had 13 points as five players reached double figures for the Utes. They assisted on 21 of 29 field goals.
“We just played great the whole 40 minutes,” Stefanovic said. “We showed our best selves tonight.”
And the ball went in the basket for once.
Fifteen 3-pointers was the most for the Utes since a similar total in 2019 against Mississippi Valley State. Riley Battin hit three of those, breaking out of a mild slump. Stefanovic hit five as Utah shot 46% from the floor and 43% from deep. That kind of shooting will win a lot of games, even for a team that didn’t win in January.
“This is a good shooting team,” Smith said. “We haven’t always done that, but tonight we did.”
The Utes also took care of the basketball, posting a season-low five turnovers, including just two in the first half when they raced out to a 46-33 lead. The first half was arguably Utah’s best half of basketball this season.
“It was a great night for the Utes, and it feels great to be back in the win column,” Smith said. “… That’s the team we need to be, where we really move it and share it.”
OSU’s Jarod Lucas, who had 25 against Utah in Corvallis, hit a 3-pointer with 12:46 left to cut Utah’s lead to eight. But after a timeout, Utah answered with buckets by Gach and Jenkins and back-to-back 3-pointers by Battin. That 10-0 run ballooned to 23-5 and the Beavers seemingly lost interest.
Defensively, the Utes recorded seven kills — holding the Beavers to three-straight empty possessions seven times — and each one was met enthusiastically by their bench.
“It’s a band of brothers out there,” Smith said. “These guys have really hung together and been tight, and you can feel it.”
Lucas and Roman Silva had 12 apiece to lead the Beavers (3-16, 1-8), who were the Pac-12 tournament champions last year after a mediocre-to-poor regular season and then made it to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament.
Maybe the Utes can take that Cinderella role this year. They certainly have some of the same ingredients.
“I just think we’re playing with a lot of vigor,” Smith said.
Utah returns to the Huntsman Center on Saturday to host Oregon (14-7), which blasted Colorado 66-51 Thursday night in Boulder.
“Since our game (in Eugene), they’ve been playing at a high level,” Smith said.
The Utes played at a high level Thursday night, for once. If they do it again, they might start a streak that is much more palatable and head in an upward direction when it is needed the most.