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Every Reason to Care About the Utah-Cal Game!

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The Runnin’ Utes take on the Golden Bears in a game featuring two teams chasing different levels of basketball achievement.

NCAA Basketball: Utah at Arizona State Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

The Pac-12 is back in basketball action Saturday night with a game between the two teams in the Pac-12 with the most inconvenient nicknames to repeatedly type: the California Golden Bears and the Utah Runnin’ Utes! The Runnin’ Utes are now 10-8 on the season, while the Golden Bears are (uses game announcer voice for when a team is losing by 50 but they’re still trying to make the game interesting) fighting through a tough season. The Golden Bears are 5-14 For your convenience, I have compiled a list of questions you might ask in order to prepare you for this matchup of two college basketball teams.

How can I watch this game?

The game will be broadcast on ESPNU at 6:00 PM MST.

You can also watch the game on the ESPN App.

It will be radio broadcast on ESPN 700.

What happened in Utah’s last game?

The Runnin’ Utes defeated Stanford 70-66 on Thursday night at the Maples Pavilion. It was a quality road win for Utah as they hadn’t won at Stanford since 1971. The game can really be summed up in two plays:

Utah’s stat line makes very little sense. They shot 63% from three during the game but shot 41% from two-point range. They got absolutely destroyed around the rim as Stanford finished the game with ten blocks. Two of those blocks also came on three-point shots. The Utes won because of some timely threes, which was good because most of their inside shots were blocked. They also turned the ball over 13 times which is considered not ideal.

But, despite all evidence to the contrary, Utah still won the game! And that’s really all that matters. Now they have a chance at a sweep against the Bay Area teams.

What happened in Cal’s last game?

The Golden Bears lost to Colorado by nine points in a game that was uglier than the Utah-Stanford one. Cal was down by as many as 18 in the second, but they fought back and had the lead 54-53 with 7:04 left in the game. However, they failed to score a field goal for the last four minutes of the game. Colorado did score during that time and got the win.

Okay, let’s look forward to the game between Utah and Cal now.

Important Question: Is Cal good at basketball?

No.

Will you please elaborate on this?

They lose most of their games. They are 0-7 in Pac-12 play. They are not good at basketball.

Why do they lose most of their games?

Cal has one of the worst defenses in all of college basketball. They currently have the 339th ranked defense according to KenPom. To put that in context, there are 353 Division I teams in the rankings. Shout out Incarnate Word for being the worst at defense.

Cal is a really young team, they currently don’t have any seniors on their roster. That means the team figures to get better in the future, but the future is not this year. There is talent there with young players such as Justice Sueing and 2018 Top 100 recruit, Matt Bradley. The team just has not found any success this season under Wyking Jones. Jones’ two-year tenure at Cal has been a rocky one. The Golden Bears have only won two conference games since he took over, and both of those happened last year. Despite the talent the Golden Bears do have, it has hardly translated into any wins. It will be surprising if Jones makes it to the end of the year as Cal head coach, much less stays around for next year.

What does Utah need to do to win?

The Runnin’ Utes need to play semi-competently and they should absolutely walk away with a win. Utah is ranked 33rd in offensive efficiency according to KenPom, which definitely gives them the edge against a Cal defense that couldn’t stop a 5th grader in a game of red rover.

Sedrick Barefield has been the key to the Utah offense all year. The Runnin’ Utes live and die by the three, 45% of their shots have been threes for the entire season. Barefield is their best and most consistent shooter, hitting 41% of his three-pointers on the year. If the shooting is decent during this game, Utah should have no problem.

However, Utah often struggle when teams play aggressive zone defenses against their offense. The best example of that was Washington. The Runnin’ Utes couldn’t get any dribble penetration and were forced to settle for contested deep shots. Utah shot 33% from the field in that game and 20% from behind the arc. Even chunks of the Stanford game showed what happens when the offense must rely on post play and getting to the rim. The team simply lacks somebody who can score in the post. Jayce Johnson is a fairly reliable defender but his offense leaves much to be desired of as he often gets bullied by stronger guys down low.

Thankfully, Cal only has one guy taller than 6’8” on their roster. His name is Connor Vanover, he’s a freshman, he’s from Arkansas, and he’s 7’3”. He sounds scary but he only plays 11 minutes a game and scores 4.7 points a game. This means the Runnin’ Utes should have a lot fewer problems winning in the paint than they have against better defensive teams. Cal does have decent guard play with the likes of Bradley, Paris Austin and Darius McNeill, so the focus figures to be on Barefield and the other Utah guards. That will leave a good chance for the forwards to get some work in this game, as they won’t have a disadvantage in terms of athleticism. Timmy Allen, Both Gach, and Donnie Tillman will all have a chance to get their numbers during this game.

What gives this game meaning?

On the Cal side of things, the Golden Bears are trying to win a conference game for the first time this season. That’s an admirable goal that all teams should try to do at least once in a given season. Winning conference games is good. Also, Cal needs to win seven more games if they are going to manage to avoid losing 20 or more games in consecutive seasons for the first time in school history. Cal has lots to play for it if squint really hard.

Honestly, Utah stands a lot more to lose in this game than it stands to gain. Defeating Cal is only slightly more prestigious than defeating Northern Arizona (76-62 baby!). With a win, Utah picks up another conference win, which is important. That win would keep Utah in the top four within the conference standings. The top four is important because when the conference tournament rolls around, the teams with the four best conference records get a bye in the first round of the tournament. So, a win here is good.

A loss here is more than the opposite of good, which is bad. A loss here is devastating. It would cost Utah its easiest conference win and knock Utah out of the top four in the conference standings. But what truly makes this loss devastating is the social aspect. It would be pretty embarrassing for the Runnin’ Utes to be the team that gives Cal it’s first conference win since February 3, of 2018. That would definitely qualify as Utah’s worst loss of the season by a wide margin. Hawaii, the previous worst loss for the Utes, is ranked 184th by KenPom, 82 spots higher up the rankings than Cal. Utah doesn’t need that type of shade being thrown at the program. Utah needs to get its win and get out. They can’t afford a slip up here because the social destruction here is just as important as the basketball destruction. Washington State can give Cal their first conference win on March 2, that would be far more appropriate.

What can you tell me so that I will be hyped for this game?

Little did you know that the Golden Bears and Runnin’ Utes actually have an intense basketball rivalry. I know this news is surprising, but the two teams have matched up 30 times over their history, and both teams have won 15 of them. This game is a battle for supremacy in the rivalry! In those many intense discussions about which program is better at basketball, the team that wins here will be able to say they hold more wins for the entire series! This game has meaning! This game is important! The winner will take the lead in the very serious Golden Bears and Runnin’ Utes rivalry! We should make a trophy like they do for every incredibly important and marginally important rivalry game in college football.

What’s a random fact I can share about Utah basketball that will make me look knowledgeable to others?

Parker Van Dyke has played in all 18 games this season for a total of 389 minutes played, he has attempted two free throws for the entire season. TWO! He made one of them.

What gif describes how you should feel if Utah wins this game?

What gif describes how you should feel if Utah loses this game?

What’s your prediction for this game?

Utah wins: 78-64. Let’s ball.