Usually, historic achievements are thought of fondly, with great pride and a sense of accomplishment. But Cal men’s basketball is changing that connotation. On Saturday night, Cal fell to Utah in an 82-64 game extending the Bears’ losing streak to nine games, tying the longest losing streak of the Wyking Jones era. Cal hasn’t started its conference season with eight consecutive losses in over a decade.
While the result wouldn’t hold, the first half started and ended on bright notes, largely due to the joint efforts of sophomores Justice Sueing and Darius McNeill. Not wasting any time, McNeill kicked the game off by stealing the ball from Utah’s freshman Jayce Johnson in the contest’s first possession.
After a few minutes of scorelessness on either ends of the court, junior Paris Austin was the first to put numbers on the scoreboard. But Austin’s made shot ended up being his only, shooting 0-6 from the field and recording only two rebounds after his opening basket.
Utah gained traction quickly, moving the ball around with ease and definitive ability. The Utes’ star player, senior Sedrick Barefield, sunk back-to-back 3-pointers before 7’0” Johnson and freshman Timmy Allen joined him as the team’s leading scorers on the night.
Barefield’s movement about the arc coupled with Cal’s questionable defensive strategy allowed the Utes to knock down 11 3-pointers in the first half.
“Once we matched up, I didn’t like the communication, I didn’t like our coming together and we were giving them space,” said Cal head coach Wyking Jones.
With 4:33 remaining in the first half, freshman forward Both Gach — who shot 70 percent from the field — knocked down a 3-pointer to expand Utah’s lead to 14 points.
But the Bears showed some fight with a nice dunk by freshman Andre Kelly and back-to-back 3-pointers from freshman Matt Bradley and McNeill that brought the Bears to just a four-point deficit heading into halftime.
While the end of the first half showed promise for a competitive second half, things just didn’t pan out that way.
“Going into the game, we thought we had a really good chance,” Sueing said. “And, especially after going into halftime, I think we were down by 4 points, but we thought we could come into the second half and execute our stuff offensively and defensively. We struggled to make a couple shots, and Utah started making theirs.”
The Utes had 22 second-half rebounds, while the Bears recorded just 25 over the course of the entire game, 11 of which were in the second half.
While McNeill and Sueing found some success shooting from behind the arc in the first half as the team shot 46.7 percent from three, the Bears lost their hot streak, managing to only shoot 25 percent from behind the arc and a measly 36 percent from the field in the latter half.
In the second half, Cal didn’t manage to pick up more free throw opportunities, only taking five shots from the line. The Bears also couldn’t pick up most of the 50/50 balls, leaving the team with little ability to close out its growing deficit.
“We were the faster team and if we had been more aggressive, we would’ve gotten to the line a lot more,” Jones said. “We should’ve gotten to the line 20 times, we should’ve been able to attack the rim and their closeouts much better than what we did.”
Cal went on a scoring drought for the final 3:08 of the game, during which Utah transformed its 13-point lead to 18 points with Gach leading the way.
The Utes’ 82-64 win was the program’s first win in Haas Pavilion since 2014 and further increased the Bears’ likelihood of a winless conference season to 15.1% according to kenpom.com.
“When you go through a scoring drought, the energy and execution makes our defense seem to take a toll,” Jones said. “When you can’t score, it’s tough.”