Utah men’s basketball runs out of gas in triple-overtime thriller against No. 8 Arizona

The Runnin’ Utes had four players in double figures, led by Branden Carlson.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Utes center Branden Carlson (35) tries to regain control of the ball in PAC-12 basketball action between the Utah Utes and the Arizona Wildcats at the Jon M. Huntsman Center, on Thursday, Feb. 8, 2024.

The Utah men’s basketball team found itself down 16 at halftime to Arizona, the No. 8 team in the country. Shots weren’t falling. The ball wasn’t being protected. It looked like a blowout to a top team, and a blow to a budding NCAA Tournament resumé.

But Utah mounted a furious comeback in the second half — led by electric 3-point shooting from Gabe Madsen and Branden Carlson — and forced overtime. Then Arizona forced double-overtime. Then Utah returned the favor with a third overtime.

The Runnin’ Utes and Wildcats exchanged body blows for every millisecond of the extra 10 minutes until Utah ran out of punches in the final five.

And when the final bell rang, the Runnin’ Utes walked off the floor with aching, tired bodies and little to show for them as they lost, 105-99.

“Super disappointed we didn’t find a way to win there,” coach Craig Smith said. “We had some chances to make some plays and we just didn’t make enough of them.”

Carlson led the Utes with 27 points and 15 rebounds, while Madsen added 17 points and five boards. Keba Keita had 18 points and seven rebounds, while Deivon Smith notched a triple-double with 14 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists.

Utah never led in the third overtime, and had to come back from deficits in each of the first two as Arizona scored the first basket in every extra period.

The only time Utah held a lead in any of the overtimes was 82-80 with 42 seconds left in the first overtime.

“We just have to keep battling,” Carlson said when asked what was different about the third overtime. “You have to keep fighting. Both teams were definitely fatigued. You just have to be able to fight through it and keep making winning plays.”

There were plenty of moments that pointed to why Utah couldn’t come away with the upset. Players missed point-blank layups, went wide on wide-open shots.

But a major culprit was free-throw shooting. The Runnin’ Utes shot 10 of 21, good for a measly 48%.

“Honestly, I think we’re a good free-throw shooting team,” Smith said, adding that he felt disappointed in himself for going 2-for-7 in those opportunities. “We just have to step up there and make free throws, honestly.”

Thursday was Utah’s first-ever triple-overtime game at home. The last time it played a game that long was on Dec. 3, 2005, in a 96-94 road loss to Rice.