Damage control: Bears capture first road win of season in Utah

Photo of Jarred Hyder of Cal Men's Basketball passing the basketball
David McAllister/File

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On March 7, 2019, Cal logged a true road win against rival Stanford. On Feb. 19, 2020, the Bears notched another win outside of Berkeley against the Washington State Cougars. With more than 20 road losses scattered in between those two wins, the Bears are still yet to find consistent success in unfamiliar territory. But Saturday night, Cal head coach Mark Fox’s team defied that pattern of failure.

Playing in Salt Lake City against a Utes squad that was fresh off of a win against Stanford, the Bears pulled out a 72-63 victory — their first win outside of Berkeley and second conference triumph of the season.

Cal hadn’t won on the road against Utah since 2013 — it had dropped five straight since then. Last season, the Bears took the Utes to overtime and emerged victorious, but the game was played in Berkeley. A 5-2 record at home and 0-6 record on the road this season confirmed the idea that performances in Haas Pavilion are antithetical to those at away games.

And with the blue and gold’s recent struggles against Utah and on the road in mind, Saturday night’s bout started off just as expected. Cal fell behind 20-9 early on and ultimately shot just 33% from the field in the first half. But despite a 12-point deficit at halftime, Cal was able to cut Utah’s lead to just one midway through the second half.

After senior forward Grant Anticevich caught fire with three straight field goals, the Bears turned that deficit into a 10-point advantage. With just more than six and a half minutes left in the ballgame, Cal finally found its stride.

Anticevich finished with 14 points on 60% shooting, which was a more than welcome performance in the absence of standout junior guard Matt Bradley. Perhaps more importantly, it signaled Anticevich’s return to form after undergoing an emergency appendectomy in mid-December. He and junior forward Andre Kelly cleaned up down low, as they combined for 16 rebounds.

Jarred Hyder, sophomore transfer guard and recent addition to the lineup, logged a solid, upward-trending performance of his own, with 11 points to show for his efforts. And even though Utes junior forward Timmy Allen notched 24 points alone, Utah didn’t put together as solid of a team performance as the Bears, who had four players in double digits as opposed to the Utes’ two.

Of course, it hasn’t helped that Cal has lacked Bradley since Jan. 2 due to an ankle injury. It is no doubt that the Bears would’ve been bolstered by his presence in Saturday’s win with a fifth double-digit scorer, but the blue and gold are finding a new rhythm.

In other words, Cal’s recent road loss aside, Fox’s team is handling the void left by Bradley quite well. But if back-to-back seasons with 1-10 road records have proven anything to fans of the blue and gold, it’s that the pendulum will swing in their favor at least once every year. Perhaps the stars just aligned Saturday.

More likely, though, Cal is finding a new chemistry, a new confidence in its ability to assemble a team effort — an effort that does not rely on Bradley, one of the Pac-12’s best scorers prior to being injured.

After the Bears head back to Berkeley for a home stint against UCLA and USC, fans will find out if their performance in Utah was just another annual victory or if the road no longer daunts them.

Ethan Waters covers men’s basketball. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @ewate1.