On Saturday, Cal men’s basketball defeated the Utah Runnin’ Utes in Salt Lake City by a final score of 72-63. This was Cal’s first win at Utah since January of 2013. Cal senior forward Grant Anticevich led the way for the Golden Bears with 14 points and 7 rebounds while Utah junior forward Timmy Allen finished with a game-high 26 points to go along with 6 rebounds and 5 assists. Cal improves to 7-8 overall and 2-6 in the Pac-12 while Utah falls to 5-6 overall and 2-5 in the Pac-12.
“It was a hard fought game,” Cal head coach Mark Fox said after the game. “I’m certainly glad it wasn’t postponed as some people thought. I got about 20 text messages in the afternoon. There was just some confusion there. We beat a team that has been really good here at home and we didn’t play terrible in the first half, but Utah played a lot harder than us. In the second half we found our rhythm and finally our defense returned.”
Utah got out to an early 4-2 lead with 15:48 to go in the first half. Pelle Larsson had all 4 of those points for the Utes while Anticevich was on the board for the Bears. Cal had 3 early turnovers and was shooting 1-3 from the field. Utah was shooting 2-6.
Utah would shortly expand their lead to go up 15-5 with 11:39 to go in the half. Larsson was up to 7 points on 3-4 shooting from the field as the Utes were on an 8-0 run over the last 3:07. It was a 3:21 scoring drought for the Bears.
Utah would go up 20-9 with 7:36 to go in the half as they were shooting 8-16 (50.0%) from the field and 3-7 from 3-point range. Cal was 3-14 (21.4%) from the field and 1-8 from 3-point range. Cal had 0 field goals in the last 2:33. They were really in need of waking up.
With 3:24 to go in the half, Utah led 24-13 as Allen and Larsson each had 7 points. Anticevich had 4 points for Cal. Utah had cooled off a bit (10-21 FG), but Cal was icy cold, shooting 5-20 (25.0%) from the field.
At halftime, Utah led 34-22. Jarred Hyder got a nice layup with under five seconds left in the half, but Cal got burned on defense on the ensuing play as Alfonso Plummer got out in front and hit a layup to beat the buzzer. Timmy Allen was up to 12 points for the Utes while Makale Foreman and Grant Anticevich each had 4 points for the Bears. Cal was settling for too many jumpers in the first half and not doing a good enough job of getting to the rim.
To start the second half, Cal made a concerted effort to get to the rim and not settle for too many jumpers. As a result, the Bears started to inch their way back into the game as Utah now led 40-32 with 15:59 to go. Jarred Hyder and Ryan Betley were both up to 6 points for Cal while Foreman had 7 points. It was a much better looking Cal team in the second half.
With 12:01 to go, Cal now had the lead up 46-42. Cal was outscoring Utah 24-8 in the second half so far and was currently on a 9-0 over the last 1:33 and a 14-2 run over the last 3:58. Betley and Foreman were both up to 9 points. Cal was playing much better and Utah had gone stupid; looking lost on the floor and not sure what day it was. As a result, Utah called for time.
Coming out of the timeout, Allen hit a layup for Utah to make it a 46-44 lead with 11:32 to go. A media timeout then followed. Considering how Cal has blown so many opportunities this season, one couldn’t help but wonder if this would be a turning point for Utah.
Rather than getting back in the game, Utah collapsed over the next few minutes as Cal led 60-50 with 6:31 to go. Cal was outscoring Utah 38-16 in the second half having made 8 of their last 10 shots. Anticevich was heating up with 14 points. Allen was up to 20 points for Utah, needing more help.
“I think it was enormous,” Fox said of Anticevich’s performance. “He’s a really good player who’s had an awful experience…He’s been frustrated. It was really uplifting for our entire team to see him make a few. It took the pressure off everybody and we were able to say ok we’re back.”
Cal would then lead 69-58 with 3:23 to go. Allen was set to go to the foul line. Foreman just hit a huge 3-pointer as he was up to 12 points. Cal just needed to finish strong.
In the end, Cal walked out with a 72-63 win. It was a very surprising win for the Bears considering they got absolutely smacked upside the head by Colorado in their previous game. Cal was rightly embarrassed by Thursday night’s performance and they came out wanting to show that they are capable of playing much better. Mark Fox made some good adjustments at halftime by telling his team to get to the rim more and to the players’ credit, they executed that game plan rather nicely with 50 points in the second half.
“I think the message to our team was the first thing we had to do was correct some fundamental issues defensively,” Fox said of what he told his team at the half. “We really just talked about playing a little more disciplined and doing the fundamental things that correlated to winning and we got into a rhythm offensively. We didn’t think in the first half we were aggressive enough and we got more aggressive.”
As for Utah, this loss really stings. After beating Stanford in their previous game, they blew a double digit halftime lead to a Cal team that is one of the worst teams in the Pac-12 when you take away Matt Bradley. Utah should have won this game by double digits and instead laid a massive egg. This is definitely a loss that is going to linger for a few days.
Up next for Cal is a home game against UCLA on Thursday, January 21. That game will tipoff at 6:00 PM PST on ESPNU.