LOS ANGELES — Utah pulled out the theatrics for its first Pac-12 road win over the season, appropriately enough in the shadows of the Hollywood sign.

Branden Carlson’s putback with 0.2 seconds remaining proved to be the difference as the Runnin’ Utes topped a hot UCLA squad 70-69 at the Pauley Pavilion on Sunday evening.

That was the final of 10 lead changes, including three in the final 20 seconds.

“I’m so proud of our guys. I just thought we played with great poise and composure all night and just didn’t flinch,” Utah coach Craig Smith said.

“There’s quite a few things we could have flinched at, including that last one, when this is a third game now in the last four that literally come down to the last possession.”

Three days after Utah had chances in the final minute to win but came up short in a 68-64 loss at USC, this time the Utes had the necessary bounces go their way.

First, Utah came up with a defensive stop on UCLA in the final minute to keep it a 67-66 game.

On the ensuing possession, Deivon Smith drove and found Keba Keita in the lane for short jumper, putting the Utes ahead 68-67 with 19.5 seconds to play

UCLA had a counter, though, as Dylan Andrews drilled a 15-foot jumper to make it 69-68 with 6.6 seconds left.

That set up the thrilling finish.

On Utah’s final possession, Cole Bajema inbounded to Carlson, who quickly got the ball over to Smith near midcourt.

Deivon Smith then split a pair of UCLA defenders near the 3-point line and got off a promising, albeit high, layup attempt that ended up bouncing off the front center of the backboard and back into play.

From there, Carlson was able to collect the ball and softly put in the game-winner.

“Honestly, once I got downhill and I saw so much space, I kinda counted it as two but No. 3 (Adem Bona) came up with a good contest,” Deivon Smith said. “I tried to put it real high and my teammates crashed (the) offensive glass like we talked about in the huddle, and we came up with the tip-in.”

Officials reviewed the play before ruling that the shot did indeed count, and that the ball hadn’t hit the back end of the backboard, which was have resulted in a Bruins possession and no points.

Instead, the Utes had the lead, there were 0.2 seconds put back on the block, and UCLA couldn’t get a shot off, leaving Utah the victor in a matchup that held plenty of drama all night.

“It’s just kind of a play we’ve worked on a lot this summer and offseason, all season long, and we were able to execute it tonight,” Carlson said of the game-winning moment.

“I just saw Deivon go for the layup and, you know, there’s nothing else to do but go crash in case he misses it. I went and did that and it luckily had a good bounce and I timed right and was able to get it in.”

“I just saw Deivon go for the layup and, you know, there’s nothing else to do but go crash in case he misses it. I went and did that and it luckily had a good bounce and I timed right and was able to get it in.” — Utah center Branden Carlson, on the game-winning putback

UCLA (14-12, 9-6 Pac-12), which entered the game having won eight of nine since Utah blew out the Bruins in the Salt Lake City matchup last month, led by as many as seven in the first half.

The Utes, who had lost four of five and three straight, didn’t stop fighting, though, and found myriad ways — among them a gritty defensive effort — to keep the contest close.

Utah (16-10, 7-8 Pac-12), one game after shooting 4 of 21 from 3, started 1 of 12 from 3-point range against UCLA, but the Runnin’ Utes remained poised and eventually found their touch from long range.

Carlson hit four 3-pointers, while Bajema made three, many of those coming at critical junctures when it felt like UCLA was ready to pull away.

Key takeaways


  • Top performers: Branden Carlson paced the Utes with 17 points and hit four 3-pointers, while Deivon Smith added 17 points, 10 assists and four rebounds. Former Ute Lazar Stefanovic scored 15 of his game-high 19 points in the first half while adding eight rebounds and three assists.
  • Back and forth contest: There were six ties and 10 lead changes in the contest.
  • 3-point shooting: Utah, which shot 42.1% overall and 50% in the second half, started 1 of 12 from 3-point range but improved as the game went on and finished 9 of 28. UCLA shot 39.7% and 5 of 21 from 3.
  • Second-chance points and points off turnovers: Utah was outdone in both second-chance points (16-10) and points off turnovers (13-6), two factors that also went against the Utes in their loss Thursday at USC. Those final two second-chance points from Carlson, though, on a game-winning putback with 0.2 seconds to play.
  • A physical one: There were two technicals called in the game — one on UCLA coach Mick Cronin and another on the Utah bench. The most impactful physical moment came with in the first half, though, when UCLA leading scorer Sebastian Mack was ejected for a flagrant 2 foul committed against Carlson.

One of those moments came early in the second half, when Gabe Madsen and Carlson hit back-to-back triples to give Utah a 42-38 lead.

The Utes ended up losing the second-chance points battle 16-10, but Utah made a pair of putbacks count in the back half of the contest as they outscored UCLA 5-2 in second-chance points after halftime.

The obvious final putback was Carlson’s game-winner, but another key one came when Hunter Erickson corralled a missed Bajema 3-point attempt, then fed Bajema for a second 3-point attempt and this one dropped with 10:40 to play.

That bucket made it 53-51 and halted a 9-2 run for the Bruins.

Over the game’s final 10 minutes, each team went on their fair share of spurts, but UCLA, which led for 26 minutes, could never build anything more than a five-point lead down the stretch.

“They’re a hard-playing team,” Deivon Smith said. “... We knew they were gonna give us their best shot.”

Behind guys like Carlson (17 points, seven rebounds) and Deivon Smith (17 points, 10 assists, four rebounds), the Utes made enough plays to grit out a victory that moves them to 1-6 in league play on the road.

Utah, against the Pac-12’s top scoring defense, put up 70 points and shot 42.1% for the game and 50% in the second half.

The Bruins, meanwhile, got 19 points from former Ute Lazar Stefanovic, including 15 in the first half, while adding eight rebounds and three assists.

It was a chippy game at times — both teams were hit with technicals in the first half, one on UCLA coach Mick Cronin and another on the Utah bench.

UCLA lost its leading scorer, Sebastian Mack, midway through the first half on a flagrant 2 call, leading to an ejection of the freshman guard.

With 9:53 left in the first half, Mack elbowed Carlson in the throat as Carlson set a screen at midcourt.

After a review, Mack was assessed a flagrant 2 foul and ejected from the game.

Utah also had its share of post player foul trouble, as Lawson Lovering and Keita each picked up three first-half fouls, though neither fouled out.

The resilience of the Utes, though, in the face of what have been the most difficult times of the season is the real narrative to take away from this one.

“UCLA is playing such good basketball right now. Over the last six weeks, they played the best basketball in the league,” Craig Smith said. “And one thing about Mick Cronin teams is they eliminate losing — you got to beat them to beat them and that’s hard to do and he’s proven it over time and this team is really galvanized.

“It’s a heck of a win for us, specifically on the road.”