Defensive woes remain at forefront as Cal hosts Utah

Photo of Cal Men's Basketball in a huddle
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It’s no secret that Cal men’s basketball is in a slump. The Bears sit dead last in the Pac-12 with a 2-12 conference record, and with six games left to play, they have already racked up more conference losses than they did all of last season. As the blue and gold hope to revitalize their season, they host the source of their only road win this season: Utah.

Cal enters the contest hoping to snap a six-game losing streak, the longest in the Mark Fox era. A win would make it three straight over the Utes, going back to an overtime victory for the Bears in Haas Pavilion last season.

Since they squared off in January, these teams have taken very different paths. Utah has gone 3-1 with wins over Washington State, Colorado and Arizona, while Cal hasn’t sniffed a single win. The good news for those pulling for the Bears is that junior guard Matt Bradley, who missed the first game against the Utes due to an ankle injury, has since returned and looks to be back to his normal, high-scoring self.

Cal’s chances depend on how well the team can defend against Utah’s Timmy Allen. The junior forward averages nearly 17 points per game. The last time these two teams faced off, Allen tallied 26 points, six rebounds and five assists. The Bears’ defense, however, still forced Allen into committing seven turnovers.

The blue and gold are no strangers to offensive struggles, but their defense has usually been consistent since Fox arrived in Berkeley. That has been slightly different this year, as the Bears’ defense has had its fair share of struggles, especially against tall forwards with long reaches, such as Oscar da Silva and Evan Mobley.

“Go back to a year ago — we were better defensively, and we weren’t any bigger,” said Fox. “We’ve got the same guys, and so we have to play smarter and be a little bit more physical than we’re being.”

The blue and gold match up fairly well defensively against the Utes and will need to display solid and consistent defense if they hope to walk out of Haas Pavilion with a win. Often, Cal gives up runs at the end of the first half or at the start of the second that put the team in a hole for the rest of the game.

“This group offensively, as we rebuild, is going to be challenged for a while,” Fox said. “But as you build that into the floor, your defense has got to be stable, and this year, I haven’t been able to find that stability on the defensive end.”

While it may feel as if this season is almost over, there remains a lot of basketball left to play — including four home games for the Bears. If Cal can find its rhythm defensively against Utah, there should be plenty to salvage for the rest of the year

Trilok Reddy covers men’s basketball. Contact him at [email protected].