It had been more than a month since the Bears had won on the road when they arrived in Salt Lake City.
Unfortunately for Cal, that drought will continue for at least the next few days. After picking up an impressive win over perennial powerhouse then-No. 12 Arizona at home Saturday, the Cal men’s basketball team dropped its seventh game away from Haas Pavilion on Wednesday night — failing to prove that the squad’s recent success can travel in a highly contested Pac-12 field. This time the defeat came at the hands of Utah, which improves to 16-5 overall and 5-3 in conference. The Bears drop to 14-7 and 4-4 in conference despite an unbeaten home record, after the 73-64 loss.
Though the majority of the first half would tell a story of dominance from the Utes, the match started out as a tightly contested affair. With both teams shooting efficiently in the earliest minutes of the game, it was apparent that the impressive performances of Cal forward Jaylen Brown and Utah’s 7-foot phenom center Jakob Poeltl were set to highlight each team’s offense Wednesday night. Brown was the first to get on the scoreboard with a jumper just more than a minute into the game, and would also play an important part in the next two scoring plays for the Bears — drawing in the Utes’ defense to kick out an assist to guard Jabari Bird, and picking up the foul en route to a layup and another three-point play. With just more than 16 minutes left in the frame, Cal would enjoy a slight 8-7 edge over the Utes.
That would be the last time the Bears led in the first half. A dunk from Poeltl on the other end would give the Utes the 9-8 advantage, and the squad didn’t look back as they embarked on a 17-3 run to bring the score to 24-11. Proving to be an imposing force for Utah on both ends of the floor, Poeltl had an impressive first half while keeping Cal freshman forward Ivan Rabb — who averaged more than 12 points per game coming into Wednesday’s matchup — scoreless through most of the frame.
Rabb would finally get on the board late in the half with a wraparound layup and a foul to make the game 32-26. But despite the quiet outing from the standout freshman, Cal would build on the forward’s effort to stage a comeback late in the frame. After continued strong play from Brown and a pair of treys from Cal’s Stephen Domingo and Bird, the Bears would head into halftime with just a one-point deficit trailing 35-34.
Coming into the second half, it looked like Cal had found a rhythm in the “black-out” crowd at the Jon M. Huntsman Center. Driving up a five-point lead within the opening minutes of the frame, the Bears enjoyed their first lead since early in the game.
The Utes didn’t take too long to find an answer. The home program would go on a 19-2 run to bring the score to 54-42, and wouldn’t give up the advantage again. Led by an impressive performance from Poeltl, who dominated in the paint and registered a 7-10 performance from the field, the Utes would continue to build up a steady lead while keeping all but Brown and Rabb to less than 10 points.
Though the Bears would continue to show life throughout the remainder of the match, frequently bringing its opponent’s lead to less than 10, not even a 27-point performance from Brown would prove to be enough. Missing the play of formerly leading scorer and senior guard Tyrone Wallace due to a wrist injury, Cal is going to need to show it can have something other than the advantage of the home crowd to buoy it to a postseason appearance.
Dani Jo Coony covers men’s basketball. Contact her at [email protected].
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the Utes’ Pac-12 record was 4-4 after Wednesday’s game. In fact, it is 5-3.