Runnin’ Utes could be missing their leading scorer for BYU rivalry game

The Cougars, meanwhile, will come into the Huntsman Center undefeated and with the No. 1 ranking in NET.

Fifth-year senior Branden Carlson may not be available for his final Utah-BYU game on Saturday.

The Utah native, and the Utes’ most effective player, has been dealing with an undisclosed injury that kept him out of Tuesday’s game against Southern Utah. Head coach Craig Smith said he’s unsure if Carlson will return in time to play against the Cougars.

“I don’t know,” Smith said. “We are off [Wednesday] and will have two days of practice going into Saturday. I don’t know. It is just too early to tell.”

Carlson was averaging 17 points per game to go along with six rebounds. He had a season-high 31 points against Wake Forest in November.

Carlson went to Bingham High School in South Jordan and this would have been his fifth time playing in the series. In the last two years, he averaged 18.5 points per game against the Cougars.

“This is obviously Utah versus BYU,” Smith said. “[He is] a guy who grew up in this state and from the time he was little he has always been following it. I know it means a lot to him. I guarantee he will do everything he can to play. I just don’t know.”

After BYU, Utah would theoretically have plenty of time to ease Carlson back in. The Utes don’t play another top-150 team until Dec. 29.

“We’ve got to think big picture on this thing, too,” Smith said. “He is an anchor for us. You can see that at times tonight. He is just a stabilizing force for us. So it is hard to say.”

Utah barely escaped Southern Utah, winning 88-86. BYU is coming in 8-0 and No. 1 in NET ranking.