Sunday's game between visiting Cal, winners of five straight games, and the No. 11 Runnin' Utes was a heavy weight bout. The pre-game spread was 17 points, and Cal didn't seem to like that, so the the Golden Bears came out swinging. Utah took Cal's best shots, and when the dust settled, the Utes won their 20th game, 76-61.
Utah threw a few jabs, jumping out to a 17-10 lead and looked like they might begin one of their signature runs, but Cal countered, storming back with a 10-0 run of their own to lead 20-17. Behind the hot hand of guard Tyron Wallace, Cal pushed their lead to as much as six at 32-26. Then Utah fought back. Utah head coach Larry Krystkowiak dialed up a full court press, which helped his Utes to end the first half on a 14-2 run to lead by six themselves, 40-34.
"They turned the pressure up, tried to turn us over," said Cal head coach Cuonzo Martin. "I think we got stagnant, as opposed to getting it across half court and attacking the rim. We settled."
In the second half, the Utes threw a few body blows, holding Cal scoreless for the first five minutes and extending their own lead to 12, 46-34. Utah turned up the pressure in the second frame, and Utes guard Delon Wright had another steal, runout, and demoralizing dunk. Utah pushed the lead out to 15 points, but... Martin's squad wasn't done.
Cal cut the lead to 12 points, but foul trouble kept forward David Kravish, Wallace, and guard Jabari Bird on the bench for good stretches of the half. Ultimately, Cal threw bombs to start the bout, but Utah stunned them in the second half and were too many points ahead on the card. Cal just didn't have anything left late, and the Utes cruised to the win.
"I thought we got a little stagnant instead of staying aggressive," Martin said. "They played with more aggression. We just came up short, as far as making plays in the second half."
Cal got 47 points between guards Wallace (26) and Bird (21) alone, but Utah answered with four players in double figures. The Utes were led by the best game of the season for freshman center Jakob Poeltl. The Austrian 7-footer finished with 18 points on 7-of-9 shooting (77.8 percent), eight rebounds (six offensive), and two blocked shots. (Unbeknownst to most Utah fans, Poeltl has been quietly improving his free throw shooting and hit 4-of-6 from the charity stripe in this game. While 66.7 percent is not great, it's much better than his below .500 shooting for the season and a good sign of things to come.)
Delon Wright chipped in 16 points, three rebounds, five assists, three steals, and a block. Junior guard Brandon Taylor, who was held without a field goal against Stanford, rebounded with 13 points on 4-of-5 shooting from beyond the three-point line, as well as one rebound and two assists (with no turnovers). Dakarai Tucker came off the bench to contribute 12 points, two rebounds, one assist, and two blocks. Utah's bench outscored Cal's bench 18-10.
Utes fans (and coaches) got a scare in the second half when Wright left the game with an injury. Wallace scored a layup and fell on Wright's ankle, which resulted in the senior guard hobbling off the floor with help from his teammates. He left the bench and went to the locker room. How serious was it? How long will he be out? It was approximately 53 seconds. Big sigh of relief from all of Utes Nation. Wright finished the night with 16 points (8-of-8 from the free throw line), three rebounds, five assists, three steals, and a blocked shot.
As a team, Utah was out-rebounded by Cal 34-35, as the Bears had a one-rebound edge on the offensive glass. Poeltl noted after the game that rebounding was a point of emphasis for the Utes in this game, and they'll need to do some more work for the coming week.
With the win, Utah got their first victory over Cal in Salt Lake City since 1969, as well as snapped the Golden Bears' winning streak at five games. Utah improved to 11-13 all-time against Cal and 15-0 during the 2014-2015 season in the Jon M. Huntsman Center.
With the loss, Cal moved to 16-10 overall and 6-7 in the Pac-12, while Utah improved to 20-4 overall and 10-2 in conference play. The Utes improved to 15-0 at home this season.
Next up for the No. 11 Runnin' Utes is the Oregon road trip, starting with fifth place Oregon State (16-9, 7-6) on Thursday at 9 p.m. MT in Corvallis, Ore.