LOS ANGELES — Branden Carlson wore an ice bag over his upper chest following Utah’s latest game, a symbol of the type of effort it took for the Runnin’ Utes to earn their conquest.

Utah went into Pauley Pavilion on a three-game losing streak and faced a red-hot, motivated UCLA squad Sunday, one the Utes blew out in historic fashion a little over a month ago.

That set the stage for what ended up being an instant classic if you’re a Utes fan — Carlson’s putback with 0.2 seconds remaining was the game-winner in a 70-69 thriller that featured 10 lead changes, including three in the final 20 seconds.

It was appropriate that Utah’s fifth-year senior leader ended up the hero as the Runnin’ Utes earned a rare sweep of UCLA in both schools’ final season together in the Pac-12.

“I’m just really proud of our team, first of all. I think we’re a very mentally tough team,” Carlson said.

“These last three games that we lost to Arizona, ASU and USC were all very close games, couple possessions that you change around and you win those games and that can be really emotionally tolling on some guys. I think we just really stayed locked in and knew what we’re capable of doing and responded really well tonight.”

Carlson was on the receiving end of an elbow to the throat while trying to set a screen in the first half, when UCLA’s leading scorer, Sebastian Mack, was called for a flagrant 2 foul and was ejected.

It was a physical game throughout, particularly in the paint, where Utah had foul trouble with post players Lawson Lovering and Keba Keita.

The Utes didn’t back down, as they overcame an early seven-point deficit and stayed within two possessions throughout the second half of a see-saw game against a Bruins squad that had won six straight games (and eight of nine) after its own struggles earlier this year.

“We knew it was gonna be a physical game. They’re a tough, tough team and they’ve been on a really good run the past, you know, however many games and so we knew coming in was going to be a battle,” Carlson said. “We responded well to how they fought tonight and we just we kept fighting as well.”

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Utah (16-10, 7-8 Pac-12) had lost four of five before Sunday night’s win and had been on the losing end of a pair of other games in the past week-plus where the Utes had chances to win on the final possession.

Against No. 8 Arizona, Utah fought back and had multiple opportunities to beat the Wildcats at the Huntsman Center, but instead fell in triple overtime.

Three days prior to the UCLA game, Utah again battled back and had a pair of chances late to either tie or take the lead against USC, but the Utes fell by four after Deivon Smith’s layup attempt with six seconds left was blocked. 

That left Utah, which once had much more favorable NCAA Tournament odds after an excellent nonconference showing, taking a sizable hit as it dropped its first six road games in Pac-12 play.

In the final minute Sunday, though, the Utes’ fate flipped in a positive direction.

First, Utah’s gritty defense forced an empty possession after UCLA entered the final minute with a one-point lead.

Then the Utes went ahead 68-67 with 19.5 seconds to play when Smith drove and found Keita open for a short jumper.

Utah, which had two fouls to give before UCLA was in the bonus, exhausted both of those fouls on the Bruins’ next possession. But UCLA countered to take the lead when Dylan Andrews, who had 15 points, drilled a 15-footer with 6.6 seconds to play, lifting the Bruins to a 69-68 lead.

That left Utah with one final chance to reverse their fortunes.

On that final Utah possession, Cole Bajema inbounded to Carlson, who quickly passed the ball over to Smith near midcourt. Smith then used his speed to slice between two UCLA defenders near the 3-point line and made a beeline for the hoop.

He got off a layup attempt with UCLA’s towering center, Adem Bona, on defense, and the ball went high, bouncing off the front end of the backboard, then back into play.

Carlson crashed the boards, collected the errant shot and softly put in the game-winner — points that were finally awarded minutes later after officials reviewed the play and deemed it a successful bucket.

“Players were making plays out there for both teams and fortunately for us, we were able to make one more,” Utah coach Craig Smith said. “It’s amazing how in these games, one possession or one basket goes in one more than the other and you’re feeling total elation, and when it goes the other way like we felt two to our last three games you feel just — it can knock the wind out of you.

“It takes resiliency and strength and our team showed something tonight.”

“It’s amazing how in these games, one possession or one basket goes in one more than the other and you’re feeling totally elation, and when it goes the other way like we felt two to our last three games you feel just — it can knock the wind out of you. It takes resiliency and strength and our team showed something tonight.” — Utah coach Craig Smith

It didn’t come without some perseverance.

One game after shooting 4 of 21 from 3-point range in the loss to USC, the Utes started 1 of 12 from long range against UCLA. That didn’t deter Utah from sticking with it, even as the team saw open shots rim out.

It eventually paid off — Carlson ended up making four 3-pointers, while Bajema hit three, including two in the back end of the second half that pulled Utah within a possession when UCLA threatened to pull away.

“Cole was really down on himself after that USC game — he went 1 for 7 from the 3 and just missed a lot of clean looks. And sometimes that happens, and give him credit to not hang his head, to keep fighting,” Craig Smith said.

“A lot of reasons people succeed is because they get through failure and he was really, really hard on himself the last couple of days and he stuck some big ones, big ones that just kind of ... got it under control when it looked like they had a lot of momentum. I just thought that was huge for us.”

Utah made 9 of 28 3-pointers, but was 5 of 12 in the second half.

“Our team’s just got to stop second-guessing our shooting. I think the past couple games or so, we’ve missed clean looks,” Carlson said. “Sometimes it just happens but I think sometimes it’s just kind of stepping up with confidence and shooting. I think a lot of our guys were ready to just make those plays tonight.”

There were several Utes who stepped up when it was needed on Sunday.

Carlson ended up with 17 points and seven rebounds on a night where he passed Andre Miller and Drew Hansen to become Utah’s all-time leader in games played (at 135), while also moving into a tie with Danny Vranes for eighth in Utes history in career points (now at 1,701).

“I think he stepped (up) real big. He’s struggled in the past, he knows he can play better, a lot of us personally. But I feel like he stepped up to the plate, made some big 3s,” Deivon Smith said. “He did his job getting to the offensive glass on that last play and he won us the game.”

Deivon Smith, too, continued to shine, adding a double-double with 17 points and 10 assists to go with four rebounds.

Bajema tossed in 11 points, five rebounds and a pair of assists, while Gabe Madsen added 11 points — six of those came from the free-throw line — even while he’s been enduring a tough shooting stretch from the field.

It’s the kind of win that could galvanize Utah, or at least build up some confidence after a particularly difficult stretch, with five regular-season games left, including three on the road starting at Colorado Saturday.

Then there’s the Pac-12 tournament in Las Vegas next month.

“It’s just a confidence booster to get that first road win and see those buckets go in — a big confidence booster,” Deivon Smith said.

Utah’s coach is taking a one-game-at-a-time-approach.

“I know this is cliche. … I don’t know where the season is gonna end, but everyone looks at games like, ‘OK, we have six games left that are guaranteed and we’re gonna go the other way,’” he said.

“We’re gonna say we get to play one game six more times. And I know it’s a play on words. But all we can do is worry about us.”

Utah guard Cole Bajema (2) shoots against UCLA during game, Sunday, Feb. 18, 2024, in Los Angeles. After a rough outing against USC, the Washington transfer came up big for the Runnin’ Utes Sunday, draining 3-pointers in Utah’s victory over the Bruins. | Eric Thayer, Associated Press