Utah starting point guard Rollie Worster is not likely to play this weekend against the Arizona schools. Normally, the loss of a starting point guard would be a big blow for a program, but luckily for the Runnin’ Utes, Deivon Smith has filled the starting role well during the last month and will be leaned on heavily as a crucial weekend approaches at the Huntsman Center.

“You can definitely see he’s making progress with the way he communicates and that’s not always an easy thing. It’s easy to talk about it, but then you got to go be able to do it.” — Utah coach Craig Smith said of point guard Deivon Smith

Utah coach Craig Smith said Tuesday that he doesn’t think that the return of Worster, who has been out since Jan. 14, is “imminent” this weekend against Arizona and Arizona State.

“We’ll just have to see after that. I know he’s supposed to be going back to the doctor here any day. ... I do anticipate him being back at some point this season. I just don’t know when that’s going to be, hopefully soon,” Smith said.

Deivon Smith has been the starting point guard in Worster’s six-game absence, averaging 15.8 points, 7.0 assists and 6.7 rebounds per game during that stretch, while playing an average of 28 minutes per game.

The Georgia Tech transfer posted a triple double — the fifth in Utah history — after scoring 16 points, dishing out 11 assists and grabbing 10 rebounds in his first-ever start for the Runnin’ Utes at Stanford on Jan. 14. He came one assist shy of a second triple-double in last week’s 73-68 win over Colorado with a stat line of 17 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists.

Craig Smith is not surprised at Deivon Smith’s performance and fit with the Utes since becoming a starter after seeing firsthand what he could do when the Utes played Georgia Tech a season ago.

“In our preparations for them it was like, ‘Oh boy, this guy is a talented guy,’” Smith said. “When he went into the portal, obviously we did our recon and just all of our protocols that we do and making sure it’s the right fit and building a relationship.”

The process to get Smith on the floor was lengthy, and a court order ultimately cleared the way for all two-time transfers to be immediately eligible. Since his first game as a Ute on Dec. 16, Smith has made an impact, and his role has only grown.

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He’s been a game-changer for the Utes, especially on the offensive end, where he has scored in double digits in all but one of his last seven games, failing to get to the double-digit mark against Washington State only because of an injury that saw him exit the game.

Smith has put the “Runnin” in Runnin’ Utes, pushing the tempo and using his speed to blow past players on fast breaks for transition buckets. He’s been able to run the offense with ease and make the right pass often.

“He’s really bought into our system and our style and he has done a good job and he’s surrounded by a bunch of really good teammates. I mean, it’s a team that averages a lot of assists,” the Utah coach said.

“We have a lot of unselfish players and we have a lot of versatility and we have great shooting and so there’s a lot of space on the floor to be able to help him be able to make some of the plays,” he continued. “And then he has that ability to go do that with his dynamic playmaking ability and the explosiveness that he has. And so it’s been outstanding, but I think what’s exciting is he can still get a lot better and that’s a really exciting thing.”

Even with Deivon Smith’s impactful play, there’s still some stuff he can improve on. He’s been a bit too turnover-prone in the last four games, with five turnovers vs. Oregon, five at Washington State, and seven vs. Colorado.

Craig Smith also said that consistency on the defense end and communication are things that Deivon can improve on, and he’s seeing that improvement day by day.

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“I thought he did a really good job against Colorado and that was something that him and I had talked about last week and our team needs that out of him,” he said. “I think he can be an elite defender, like a really, really good defender. Some of that is still getting used to our style of play, you know what I mean? All of our terminology, our different coverages.”

Being a great on-ball defender is just one aspect of being a great defender. Communication is a big key, as is knowing defensive rotations — where to rotate when Utah doubles the post or screen-roll coverages, to name a few, Smith said.

Deivon Smith’s communication on the defensive end has been growing throughout his time with Utah.

“You can definitely see he’s making progress with the way he communicates and that’s not always an easy thing. It’s easy to talk about it, but then you got to go be able to do it,” Smith said.

The Utes will need Deivon Smith to be at his best as No. 8 Arizona and Arizona State come to town in what could be a pivotal stretch for Utah’s NCAA Tournament hopes.

“Just small increments in different places that I think can continue to help him, which is going to really help our team,” Smith said.

Utah Utes guard Deivon Smith (5) celebrates a buzzer beater at the end of the first half during a game against the Oregon Ducks at the Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City on Jan. 21, 2024. The Utes won 80-77.
Utah guard Deivon Smith (5) celebrates a buzzer beater at the end of the first half during a game against the Oregon Ducks at the Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City on Jan. 21, 2024. The Utes won 80-77. | Marielle Scott, Deseret News