Utah puts its perfect start in Pac-12 Conference play on the line when it plays host to Oregon State at Salt Lake City on Thursday.
The Utes (11-4, 4-0 Pac-12) have won four straight games against Pac-12 opponents for the first time since the 2018-19 season.
Three of those four victories came on the road, including last week’s sweep of California and Stanford. It is the first time since 2014-15 that Utah has opened Pac-12 play with four straight wins.
Utah got a bit of a scare from last-place Stanford on Saturday, escaping with a 71-66 victory. Lazar Stefanovic led the way with a career-high 20 points on 6-of-7 shooting. Branden Carlson added 18 points en route to becoming the 41st player to score at least 1,000 career points for the Utes.
Stanford made seven straight baskets to cut Utah’s lead to 62-60 before the Utes finally pulled away by making 13 of 14 free throws in the final four minutes.
“It kinda felt like a 15-round fight and at round 12 our legs were getting a little wobbly,” Utah coach Craig Smith said. “But we were able to stay on our feet and stay connected and make enough plays late.”
Wobbly best describes how Oregon State’s season has played out thus far. The Beavers (7-7, 1-2) are improved from when they bottomed out a season ago, but have been inconsistent.
A 77-68 loss to instate rival Oregon on Saturday snapped a three-game winning streak. Oregon State shot 48 percent from the field and made seven 3-pointers. But the Beavers also gave up 17 offensive rebounds and were outrebounded 39-21 overall, giving the Ducks enough extra possessions to pull away with a victory.
The struggles on the glass offset a brilliant game from Dexter Akanno, who finished with a career-high 20 points on 6-of-11 shooting.
Still, Oregon State is showing encouraging signs that it will be more competitive in Pac-12 play this season after going 1-19 in the conference last season.
“They’re taking to coaching. They’re playing harder. They’re playing for each other,” Beavers coach Wayne Tinkle said.
–Field Level Media