Utah Utes Branden Calrson injured in loss vs. Oregon Ducks

Coach Craig Smith said it was too early to know the extent of his leading scorer’s status with the Pac-12 tournament looming.

Oregon center Nate Bittle (32) drives against Utah guard Gabe Madsen (55) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Eugene, Ore., Saturday, March 9, 2024. (AP Photo/Thomas Boyd)`

Runnin’ Utes senior Branden Carlson appeared to injure his left arm during the Utes’ 66-65 loss at Oregon on Saturday night.

Now the question is: Will Utah’s leading scorer be ready for the Pac-12 tournament?

“I don’t have an update,” Utah coach Craig Smith said immediately after the game. “I just don’t. We have to talk to our athletic trainer and see what the next step is.”

Carlson’s impact and absence was clear Saturday night.

The 7-footer scored 17 points in the first half. His last bucket, a layup just over two minutes into the second half, put Utah ahead 45-37.

Then came the play that knocked Carlson out of the game — he got tangled up with Oregon’s N’Faly Dante under the basket — and left him sitting on the bench with his arm in a sling.

“I haven’t seen the video,” Smith said of the injury. “They just said it was both guys being physical — and it was just a basketball play is what I was told.”

With their leader on the bench, Utah faltered down the stretch. The Ducks outscored the Utes 35-28 in the second half, as Oregon finished with a 36-20 advantage in the paint.

“Certainly, when [Carlson] got hurt we were a little bit … wobbly, so to speak,” Smith said. “We had to recenter ourselves and I thought we responded.”

Indeed, the Utes had a chance to win it.

Trailing by a point with time winding down, point guard Deivon Smith gave the ball to Gabe Madsen on the 3-point line. Madsen, who had 14 points on the night, pump faked and drove past a leaping defender.

“Hindsight’s always 20-20,” Smith said. “… I thought [Madsen] might let that one go.”

Instead, Madsen drove into the paint and then kicked the ball to the corner where Ben Carlson was wide open. Unfortunately for the Utes, Carlson would finish 0-for-5 from deep, his shot at the horn hitting only the far side of the rim.

“When he shot it, I thought it went in,” Smith said. “… I thought Ben played a great game. Obviously, he didn’t shoot the ball the way we’ve seen him shoot the ball at times. But he had a wide-open look.”

Dante had 19 points and 12 rebounds for the Ducks, while Jermaine Cousinard scored 14 points and Jackson Shelstad added 12.

Branden Carlson led the Utes with 19 points, Smith scored 14 and Madsen added 14.

The Utes finish the regular season 18-13 overall and 9-11 in conference play. Utah had been a bubble team, with ESPN predicting the Utes were among the last four to miss the NCAA Tournament’s cut. But after closing with two road defeats, Utah has its work cut out for it in the Pac-12 tournament Wednesday in Las Vegas.

“They call it March Madness for a reason,” Smith said. “Anything in March Madness can happen.”

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