The Utah Utes (11-4, 4-0 Pac-12) escaped Maples Pavilion with a 71 -66 victory against the Stanford Cardinal (5-9, 0-4 Pac-12) on New Year’s Eve. This is the second time Stanford has started 0-4 in conference play during head coach Jerod Haase’s tenure on the Farm.
A poor 3-point shooting performance dug the Cardinal into an early hole. Stanford missed their first eight 3- point attempts, and shot 25% from the field in the first 10 minutes of the game. Meanwhile, the Utes got off to a consistent start offensively thanks to the play of center Branden Carlson and guard Lazar Stefanovic. Despite quality play on both ends of the floor, the Utes let Stanford linger thanks to an early turnover deficit.
After facing a 10-point deficit, the Cardinal assembled a brief offensive spurt in the middle of the half, and cut the lead to two possessions multiple times. However, down the stretch, Stanford resumed their poor offensive play, only scoring one point in the final 5:10 seconds of the first half. The team finished the half shooting just 34.5% from the field, while the Utes shot an impressive 60%. At halftime, Utah led by a score of 30-23. Sophomore forward Harrison Ingram led the Cardinal in scoring with seven points, while graduate student guard Michael Jones followed with six points. For the Utes, Carlson led all scorers with 11 points, with Stefanovic on his heels with eight points.
“I thought many, many, many of the looks that we had were clean looks with good shooters,” Haase said after the game. “We did want to attack the paint. I thought we settled maybe a touch too much. But it’s hard to tell really good shooters not to shoot open shots.”
The beginning of the second half featured more of the same narrative as the first half. Utah continued to get clean looks at the rim, while tightening up their halfcourt defense. The Cardinal remained cold from the floor, struggling inside and outside of the arc. The Utes were able to extend their lead out to 16 early in the half. Carlson and Stefanovic continued to be the catalysts offensively for Utah, finishing with 18 and 20 points respectively.
“He’s an excellent three point shooter, he can put the ball on the ground a little bit, he can score inside, he’s a great offensive rebounder,” Haase said of Carlson after the game. “Not a surprise that he did well, but was a little disappointed we weren’t able to be a little more efficient defending him.”
However, the tides began to turn when the Cardinal began stroking the ball from the 3-point line.
“For most shooters, once you see it go through the net once you just build a little confidence,” said senior forward Spencer Jones. “If I could miss five, I’ll still put it up with the same amount of confidence.”
The team hit five threes in a four minute stretch to shrink Utah’s cushion to six with 3:21 remaining, and within 45 seconds, Stanford was able to cut it to a two-point game. But costly fouls on back-to-back possessions allowed the Utes to push the lead back to six with 1:29 in the game.
From there, Utah was able to hit clutch free throws in order to clinch their fourth straight victory in conference play.
Up next, Stanford will head across the Bay to take on the struggling Cal Golden Bears (1-14, 0-4 Pac-12). Both teams are looking to earn their first conference win of the year, raising the stakes in an already competitive rivalry.
Tip-off will commence at 8 p.m P.T. on Friday at Haas Pavilion.