Thursday night marked a rare reversal for Cal men’s basketball. After coming out on top in a road matchup with Utah earlier this season, the blue and gold couldn’t find the same result at home. Despite the game being within reach for the Bears, they couldn’t hold on and were defeated 76-75 by the visiting Utes. With the loss, Cal dropped its seventh game in a row and fell to 2-13 in the Pac-12.
“We played together, and we finished plays pretty well. I thought we competed hard, and we finished plays at a pretty good rate. We had a number of guys in double figures, we rebounded it better tonight, but we just got outscored there at the line, and we need to get more stops,” said Cal head coach Mark Fox. “At the end of the day, you’ve got to play through whatever happens on the floor and overcome it.”
Cal started the game showing that while the team may be at the bottom of the Pac-12, it does not make games easy for its opponents. A quick bucket by Andre Kelly followed by a steal and score for Grant Anticevich gave the Bears an early 4-0 lead. Utah quickly fought back, but a pair of threes by Matt Bradley and Joel Brown kept the advantage with the blue and gold.
Eventually, Utah’s star forward Timmy Allen got involved with an and-one dunk that — along with two straight turnovers for Cal — shifted the momentum in favor of the Utes. As Allen continued to rack up points, Anticevich was able to keep the Bears in the game with two straight three-pointers.
“They’re a really good team. … It’s gone down to the wire, a lot of the games we’ve had between one another,” Anticevich said. “As a player, those games that are really competitive and high intensity are really enjoyable to play in.”
Cal was playing a faster game than usual, and both teams were shooting a high percentage from the field as the first half came to a close. The Bears’ offense was clicking in a way it hasn’t been for weeks as they strung together a 7-0 run and hit six baskets in a row without missing.
Unfortunately for the blue and gold, the last three minutes of the first half were as troublesome as they had been in preceding games, and Utah quickly turned a two-point lead into a 10-point advantage. Last time these teams faced each other, Cal scored 50 points in the second half — and it looked like the team would need another 50-point half to win this game.
The Bears certainly played as if they were aiming for 50 as they started the second half. Kelly and Anticevich’s efforts brought Cal within three in the opening minutes. The officials also appeared to have made some halftime adjustments, as it took less than five minutes of the second half to match the total number of fouls from the first.
“I’m really disappointed for our team. I thought we played really hard in the second half — got to give Utah credit for doing the same,” Fox said. “We didn’t defend in the first half like we wanted to, but in the second half, I was really pleased with how we played.”
After trading baskets for the first part of a much slower second half, Makale Foreman made two straight shots to tie it up at 50, and then Bradley hit an and-one layup to give the Bears their first lead of the half with just under nine minutes left.
Utah’s Ian Martinez managed to take the lead back by scoring seven straight points for the Utes. Cal kept the game close but could not catch a break, as it got called for six straight fouls during the final three and a half minutes without a single call going its way.
“We would defend and late in the shot clock they would call a foul. They went to the line trip after trip after trip. … That was a huge factor in the game,” Fox said. “It’s really the mistakes in the first 39 minutes we have to focus on, because we did play a lot better. We just didn’t close out the game.”
The Bears would simply not give up, however, as they fought back from a seven-point deficit with 0:45 on the clock to give Bradley a chance at a game-winning three. It was slightly off target but Kelly was able to come down with the rebound and get fouled on the way up. Kelly, who had gone 4-4 from the line, missed the first shot and made the second to end the game.
After coming so close with multiple chances at a victory, this loss might sting a little more than the others for the blue and gold. Nonetheless, as they look forward to Saturday’s game against Colorado, they should feel more confident given that they played some of the best basketball in weeks against Utah.
Trilok Reddy covers men’s basketball. Contact him at [email protected]