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Where will hot-and-cold Runnin’ Utes go from here?

Utah looks to get back on track this week with games against Washington State and Washington at the Huntsman Center

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Utah Utes head coach Craig Smith reacts to a foul call

Utah coach Craig Smith reacts to a foul call during the game against Oregon at the Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Jan. 7, 2023. After starting Pac-12 play 5-0, the Runnin’ Utes have dropped three straight. Utah returns home this week to play Washington State and Washington at the Huntsman Center.

Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

This article was first published in the Ute Insiders newsletter. Sign up to receive the newsletter in your inbox each Wednesday night.

A couple of weeks ago, the Runnin’ Utes were unbeaten, and found themselves in first place in the Pac-12 standings with a 5-0 record. Not bad for a team picked to finish 10th in the preseason Pac-12 poll.

Now? Utah is 5-3, and sitting in fourth place, after dropping three straight games, which includes getting swept in Los Angeles last weekend at UCLA and USC by double digits.

Which way does Utah go from here?

The Utes host Washington State and Washington this weekend. Coach Craig Smith, in his second season at the helm, is committed to the process.

“We just gotta keep climbing and keep growing and keep getting better, and keep maturing. Sometimes it is a race to maturity, and we gotta keep maturing and growing and keep growing as a team, and certainly individually that will help our team,” Smith said. “We need to be (tough-minded). It is big-boy basketball. You are playing in the Pac-12 Conference, and it is one of the best leagues in the country.

“We have some thoroughbreds in this league, meaning thoroughbred teams. It is difficult. When you play two games in three days on the road, it is tough. It is tough to win on the road no matter who you play, but especially this one. This is a difficult, difficult road trip, and I think we will grow. I do.”

Can the Utes remain in the upper-echelon of the Pac-12 standings and earn a bye to the quarterfinals of the Pac-12 tournament? We’ll find out in the coming weeks.

“We are not giving up any time soon,” said Utah 7-footer Branden Carlson. “We are still in this thing. We are going to keep bringing the fight, and keep swinging.”

In case you missed it

The Utah women’s basketball team, ranked No. 8 in the country, is enjoying a sensational season.

The Utes earned a dramatic win over Arizona, now ranked No. 19, on Sunday at the Huntsman Center. Alissa Pili knocked down two free throws with 0.3 seconds remaining to propel Utah (15-1) to a 80-79 victory against the Wildcats.

“That was really fun. What a great game,” said Utah coach Lynne Roberts. “It was just back-and-forth the whole time. We answered their runs, they answered our runs. I just love that we didn’t panic.”

Numbers game

27: Points scored by Utah’s Alissa Pili in a one-point, last-second win over Arizona.

226: Yards thrown by former Ute quarterback Tyler Huntley for the Baltimore Ravens in his first career playoff start.

197.750: Score earned by the Red Rocks in a first-place finish at the Best of Utah.

From the archives

Extra points

  • Analysis: Runnin’ Utes aren’t ready yet to write their own script in the shadows of Hollywood (Deseret News)
  • 2 Utah Utes and a BYU Cougar advance on first day of wild-card playoffs (Deseret News)
  • The reason behind No. 10 Utah women’s basketball’s ‘Utes Beyond the Paint’ program (Deseret News)
  • West Valley City has become a gymnastics destination (Deseret News)
  • 3 Utah players and a BYU player appear on ESPN’s 2022 Top 100 college football players list (Deseret News)
  • 2 former Utah Utes are transferring to new schools in the West. Here’s where they’re headed (Deseret News)

Fanalyst

Top tier in college gymnastics is top five. The Red Rocks have been there for decades. But this team is not just top tier. They are one of three favorites. Get yours, ladies!

— gadiantonchief

Where is the coaching? We continue to run the same offensive sets and we do NOT have shooters to make the shots designed from 400 feet away. Serious, the coaches need to try some of the bench players in the games, can Exacte and Holt shoot? We don’t know because Gabe and Lazar are allowed to throw up 30 shots a game each, that have zero chance of going in the hoop, and play the entire game. What about the other bench players? Saunders, Luka, Elias, Jaxon, etc. We know Jaxon is not at Pac-12 level, but he has been loyal. Elias might not be as athletic as others, but he can shoot the ball better than 4 of the starters. Branden Carlson has been amazing, his skill development shows, and he can shoot any time he wants in my book. Marco needs to be more dominant, he just seems content and really not that interested. Nice to see Rollie take some initiative and a few risks. But he is not a Pac-12 player. I’m also completely stuck in my thinking of WHY the other player named Carlson from Wisconsin is on the team, what does he do? I think Keiba should take that spot and be the starter.

— JD

Utah continues to be in denial that they were actually in either of these two games. UCLA absolutely toyed with them most of the game ... much like the Colorado game Saturday night where they finally decided to flip the switch. They didn’t have to much against Utah. When they play later in SLC I see UCLA coming in on a different level and punishing them even more. USC ... who knows ... never quite sure what they are going to bring. Could go either way in SLC. Utah is in a delusional state thinking they are actually in the middle of something. Not enough talent or even energy within the fan base...

— magicman32

Up next

Jan. 19 | 7 p.m. | Men’s basketball | vs. Washington State | @Salt Lake City | Pac-12 Network

Jan. 20 | 7 p.m. | Women’s basketball | vs. Stanford | @Stanford, California | Pac-12 Mountain

Jan. 21 | 6 p.m. | Men’s basketball | vs. Washington | @Salt Lake City | Pac-12 Network

Jan. 22 | 5 p.m. | Women’s basketball | vs. California | @Berkeley, California | Pac-12 Mountain

Jan. 22 | 6 p.m. | Gymnastics | vs. Oklahoma | @Norman, Oklahoma | ESPN

merlin_2958251.jpg

Utah Utes coach Lynne Roberts celebrates as the 10th-ranked women’s basketball team defeats the 14th-ranked Arizona Wildcats 80-79 in a thriller at the Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City on Sunday, Jan. 15, 2023.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News