NCAAB: Branden Carlson leads surprising Utah against Oregon State


Branden Carlson continues to raise his level of play while becoming the symbol of Utah’s improvement.

The overachieving Utes are in second place in the Pac-12 as they begin a crucial two-game swing in the Pacific Northwest, starting with a Thursday night game against Oregon State at Corvallis, Ore.

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Utah (14-7, 7-3 Pac-12) was predicted to finish 10th in the 12-team conference but is flying high at the league’s midway point as well as pursuing its first 20-win campaign since the 2017-18 season.

Carlson is leading the charge with team-best averages of 17.1 points and 7.6 rebounds. He also has a team-high 46 blocked shots.

Carlson was named Pac-12 Player of the Week after averaging 26.5 points, eight rebounds, 2.5 blocks and 1.5 steals last week in home wins over Washington State and Washington. He made 21 of 29 shots, a scintillating 72.4 percent, and hit 4 of 6 from 3-point range.

Overall, Carlson has scored 20 or more points in three straight games, with his latest solid effort consisting of 25 points in the Utes’ 86-61 rout of Washington on Saturday.

“When we play at this level and play this way for each other, great things are going to happen for us,” Carlson said after the victory.

Carlson had 27 points and 11 rebounds on Jan. 5 when the Utes posted a 79-60 home win over Oregon State.

The Beavers (8-12, 2-7) ended some rough streaks when they notched a 68-48 win at Cal on Sunday.

Oregon State had lost six straight games overall and 25 consecutive games on road or neutral courts, beginning with a loss to Houston in the Elite Eight of the 2021 NCAA Tournament.

The good news is the Beavers are 7-3 at home this season. They also have traditionally handled Utah in Gill Coliseum, winning 14 of the 17 meetings.

Against Cal, Jordan Pope scored 19 points and Dexter Akanno added 16 for Oregon State. The Beavers knocked down a season-high 13 3-pointers — their best output since sinking 16 against Missouri State during the 2018-19 season.

Pope, who averages a team-high 12.4 points, was thrilled to get a victory, which was Oregon State’s first since beating Denver 57-52 on Dec. 21.

“It means a lot, not only because it’s our first road win of the year and our first win in 2023,” Pope said on the school’s postgame radio show. “It was a great bounce-back game from our (Thursday) loss back in Stanford and everybody contributed well and played a big part.”

Utah has won the past two meetings after Oregon State prevailed in each of the previous five matchups.

Utah finishes its trip with a Saturday game against Oregon in Eugene. Oregon State will play host to Colorado on Saturday.

–Field Level Media

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