If Utah’s plan Thursday night was to shut down Justin Cobbs and Allen Crabbe, then the Utes succeeded with flying colors.
If Utah’s plan was to win, well, that didn’t go so well.
Despite a sluggish start, the Cal men’s basketball team took care of the Utes, 60-46, in a poor-shooting affair at the John Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Crabbe, the Bears’ leading scorer at 15.6 points a game, did not make a single basket, missing all six of his attempts. The sophomore guard finished with three points, a season low.
Cobbs was not a whole lot better. The hottest player in the conference — the point guard averaged 19 points and 10.5 assists in last weekend’s games to garner Pac-12 Player of the Week honors — cooled down considerably Thursday, tallying just five points and three assists.
“I was pretty pleased with our defense,” said Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak. “Holding that team to 60 points, I would hit the ‘deal’ button if you would have told me that. We just have to figure out a way to score.”
But their teammates picked them up, demonstrating the strength of Cal’s starting lineup. Forwards Harper Kamp and David Kravish took advantage of Utah’s lack of size — only one of the Utes’ players exceeds 6-foot-6 — to combined for 28 points on 50 percent shooting. The Bears’ two starting bigs also pulled down 13 boards.
Kamp opened the game with a jumper, but Utah (5-22, 2-13 in the Pac-12) scored two quick baskets to seize the lead. The Bears (23-6, 13-3) tied the game at 8 and 10 a piece, but the Utes — the same squad that went more than seven minutes without scoring during one stretch in their 81-45 loss in Berkeley back in January — would not relent. Finally, Cal broke a 12-12 tie to go on a 23-11 run to end the half.
“We started off slow — there were certain things we knew they would do, and we missed a couple of cues, and they scored on us, but then we buckled down defensively,” said Cal coach Mike Montgomery. “We were a little bit tired early, and we couldn’t shoot the ball, and you can’t do that, that hurts you.”
The margin hovered above 10 until the 12-minute mark, when the Utes scored nine in a row to trim a 16-point deficit down to seven. Center Jason Washburn had four of his 10 points on the spurt. But three minutes of solid basketball does not make up for an otherwise woeful night shooting and handling the ball.
Utah played like a team that has lost eight straight, shooting 34.8 percent from the field and turning the ball over a whipping 18 times (compared to Cal’s eight turnovers).
“They made the game ugly,” Montgomery said of the Utes, “and we fell right into place.”
The Bears, who were ice cold from the 3-point line but nearly 50 percent inside the perimeter, responded with seven unanswered points to clinch their sixth straight win. Cal, currently alone in first place, continues its quest for a second conference title in three years at 2:30 p.m. on Sunday at Colorado.
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