Win Over BYU Means A Little More To Utah’s Branden Carlson

Dec 9, 2023, 9:11 PM

SALT LAKE CITY – It’s been a while since Utah men’s basketball beat rival BYU, but that came to an end tonight at the Huntsman Center.

Rivalries are always a bit more personal- especially the BYU versus Utah rivalry where there is so much intermixing between the two schools that are only 45 minutes away from each other.

That certainly is the case for Utah super-senior Branden Carlson who started life as a BYU fan only to end up playing for the Utes, making this 73-69 win particularly sweet.

Utah Knew What This Game Meant For Branden Carlson Going In

During post-game Utah head coach Craig Smith was asked about what this game not only meant to the program, but to Carlson who took a flyer on the Utes back in 2019-20 as a freshman.

“We had our little celebration in there and that was- I don’t talk a lot about individuals- everything we do as a team,” Smith said. “Obviously, the players know- everybody knows how important it was to him and, now you’re going to get me emotional here. That guy is a legendary Ute. He obviously tested the waters last year and there is a lot of stuff that goes out there on the recruiting front behind the scenes. He had a lot of options, but there was never doubt about what he wanted to do. He’s a Runnin’ Ute. This is a big part of why he came back- part of why he came back, and he played like it tonight. He played like a fifth-year dude.”

Smith later touched on the fact that Carlson was questionable for the rivalry game but played the game in such a way that it was easy to forget he spent the week battling an injury.

Carlson finished the night second in scoring for the Utes with 15 points, eight rebounds, two assists and one steal in 32 minutes of play.

“He played like an All-Pac-12 dude,” Smith said. “Played like one of the best players in the country. His force- his ability to come back from his injury- it’s easy to kind of forget about that now. He showed a little rust, got tired quicker because he hasn’t done anything since the Hawaii game. He did a little bit of stuff yesterday- that’s what winners do. That dude is a winner, and he loves the University of Utah. He loves this place.”

Branden Carlson Expresses His Gratitude For Utah, The Fans

The Huntsman Center was rocking for the game in a way it hasn’t in years and that wasn’t lost on Carlson who took time to express his gratitude for the fans who helped sell the arena out.

“It was a great environment,” Carlson said. “I want to thank all of the Ute fans who came out to this game and brought so much energy and really helped to keep us going throughout the tough stretches. Thank you to them. It was a great home win against a great team, you know, No. 14. Obviously, this rivalry is always something to look forward to. Growing up in Utah- it felt great to get this win.”

Carlson went a little deeper into his feelings and connections to the rivalry game and why getting the win in his final season playing at Utah meant so much.

“Growing up in Utah, watching this rivalry game- I grew up a BYU fan and then came here,” Carlson said. “It was great. I think we won my freshman year and then lost the next three. Obviously, I didn’t like the feeling of being 1-3 against BYU. Obviously, that wasn’t the whole reason of coming back for just this one game, but it had a huge part. It’s just a great- I guess you could say, tradition of this game going back-and-forth. It’s going to be fun for the Utes next year as a conference game.”

Michelle Bodkin is the Utah Utes Insider for KSLsports.com and host of both the Crimson Corner Podcast (SUBSCRIBE) and The Saturday Show (Saturday from 10 a.m.–12 p.m.) on The KSL Sports Zone. Follow her on XInstagram, and Threads: @BodkinKSLsports

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Win Over BYU Means A Little More To Utah’s Branden Carlson