Cal men’s basketball faces Utah, hoping to get first conference win

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It’s the middle of a busy weekend for Cal men’s basketball, who faced Colorado on Thursday night and will be put to the test once again Saturday against Utah.

While the Utes have seen recent success, their season is not looking nearly as shiny as their previous season. When presented with a hefty challenge — now-No. 8 Kentucky on their schedule — the Utes turned the ball over 18 times and ended up suffering a brutal 27-point loss on the road.

Yet, refusing to roll down the hill of losses, the Utes bounced back in their next game to dominate over a mediocre Florida A&M team and take a booming 29-point win. After beating Northern Arizona, the Utes wrapped up nonconference play with one of their biggest tests of the season — a game against now-No. 7 Nevada.

Despite trailing by just 1 point at the end of the first half, the Utes ultimately couldn’t top the Wolf Pack, who thrive under second-half pressure. With senior Caleb Martin leading the way for Nevada with a career-high 33-points and four steals, the Wolf Pack managed to cripple Utah’s efforts on both ends of the court. It’s worth noting, though, that Utah senior Sedrick Barefield matched Martin’s 33-points with his own season-high 33 points, even though the Utes’ collective effort couldn’t overcome the Wolf Pack’s fight.

Barefield has proven to be a valuable force for the Utes as the team’s leading scorer. Since conference play began, Barefield is averaging 17.6 points and shooting 46.2 percent from the field.

Bolstering his efforts are forwards Timmy Allen and Both Gach. Allen is averaging 3.4 assists per conference game and is shooting 54.5 percent from the field, but the Bears will be unlikely to see the freshman take a shot from behind the arc. Despite a rocky few games in the middle of the season, Gach has had a considerable role in achieving Utah’s conference success.

In Utah’s game against Washington State, Gach recorded 14 points and two steals and shot 6-7 from the field to help take the Utes’ 88-70 win.

Of their Pac-12 matchups, the Utes have only had one blowout loss, which they suffered against Washington, after falling to Arizona — who are at No. 2 in the conference as of Thursday afternoon — in a thrilling overtime battle.

According to kenpom.com, Utah is ranked No. 34 for adjusted offensive efficiency — a ranking that doesn’t sound too good for a Cal team that struggles to play any sort of effective defense game after game.

Although the midpoint of conference play is rapidly approaching, Cal head coach Wyking Jones has yet to find his consistent starting lineup. The task may have some added difficulty given the youth of Jones’ top players — only junior Paris Austin brings true veteran experience to the court.

Regardless of who Jones puts on the court, the Bears will need to come out of the gates at full force Saturday night, paying special attention to developing their typically nonexistent defense.

Surina Khurana covers men’s basketball. Contact her at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @surina_k.