Larry Krystkowiak will have you believe that there is no one thing at the root of his University of Utah’s men’s basketball team struggling on the road, while being nearly lights out at home.
Fair enough, but the fact of the matter is, this radically-young Utes team has been far better at the Huntsman Center this season. That bears repeating, because after getting swept in Southern California last weekend by USC and UCLA, Krystkowiak’s group returned home and registered one of its best wins of the season, even if it turned out ugly.
Freshman center Branden Carlson had his finest game as a collegian with 15 points, 10 rebounds and eight blocks. Jaxon Brenchley complemented Carlson with key plays in overtime, and the Utes moved to 9-1 at the Huntsman Center thanks to a 64-56 win over Stanford.
“There’s a lot of facets to a game and if you want to be competitive and put yourself in a position, whether you’re on the road, home, neutral, anything, we’ve got to be a lot better than we’ve been on the road,” Krystkowiak said. “I think you just kind of stay in your foxhole with each other and you just try to be a little sharper and you try to win the next possession.”
Starting and playing heavy minutes for the third straight game with Both Gach still sidelined with a knee issue, Brenchley knocked down a quick-trigger 3-pointer from the left baseline to give Utah a 57-53 lead with 2:08 to play in overtime.
After Stanford’s Tyrell Terry missed a 3-pointer, Brenchley drove the baseline. The defense collapsed and he found Carlson underneath for a two-handed dunk and a six-point advantage with 1:16 left.
“The game just kind of came to me,” said Brenchley, who finished with six points and six rebounds in 31 minutes. “I was in the right position and luckily, my teammates trusted me to make the right play. I’m just trying to play with confidence and play the right way.”
Carlson’s dunk capped a night in which he was a force, especially on the defensive end. The eight blocks, many of which came when the 7-foot freshman slid away from his man to help, are tied for the third most in a single game in program history.
Offensively, Carlson opened up the repertoire. He dunked, he deftly converted baby-hooks, he even showed the ability to step out and knock down a midrange jumper.
“I just came in ready to play, ready to help our team get a W after we had two tough losses in LA,” Carlson said. “Me, myself, as well as my teammates came here ready to contribute and ready to play our roles.”
With Carlson as the anchor, Utah (13-9, 4-6 Pac-12), sturdy on defense for most of the night, held Stanford to 2-for-10 shooting and 1 for 7 from deep in overtime. The Cardinal (16-6, 5-4 Pac-12), who were coming off a resume-building win over Oregon last weekend, shot just 35.4% for the night. Their leading scorer, 6-foot-9 junior forward Oscar da Silva, finished with eight points and 11 rebounds, but shot just 4 for 12.
Overtime was preceded by Timmy Allen knocking down one of two free throws to tie the game at 50 with 3.9 seconds left after a strong drive to the hole. Out of a Stanford timeout, and after a clock malfunction led to a five-minute monitor review, the Cardinal inbounded from halfcourt. Terry’s decent look from about 25 feet went off the front of the rim at the buzzer.
Two free throws from Carlson with 1:51 to play gave Utah a 49-47 lead. After the teams traded turnovers, Terry came off a screen and banged a 3-pointer from the right wing for a 50-49 Stanford lead with 49 seconds to play.
With Utah hanging on to a 44-43 lead inside six minutes to play, Stanford turned the Utes over, then took its first lead of the night when Oscar da Silva followed a Terry miss with 5:17 to go.
At this point, Utah was in the middle of its second scoring drought of the night eclipsing six minutes, but Riley Battin’s 3-pointer from straightaway off a Rylan Jones kickout gave the Utes the lead back at 47-45. Battin’s triple marked just the sixth second-half field goal for the Utes, who shot 36.8% for the night and 31.6% from 3-point range.
Gach missed his third straight game with a knee injury. In losses at USC and UCLA last weekend, Gach was a game-time decision. He dressed and warmed up before ultimately being ruled out of each game. On Thursday, it didn’t even get that far.
Gach was not on the floor for early warmups, and never warmed up at all. Brenchley started in place of Gach for the third straight game.
“If I had any answers, I don’t if I’d share them with you, but I don’t have answers,” Krystkowiak said tongue-in-cheek. “In the meantime, we have to focus on the guys that we have and keep our focus there. I think he’s improving, but beyond that, I’m not sure.”