GAME NOTES: The hottest team in the Pac-12 continues its unexpected run at the conference crown, as the California Golden Bears play host to the Utah Utes in league play at Haas Pavilion on Thursday.
Mike Montgomery and the Golden Bears have certainly faced some adversity of late, but the team has seemed to galvanize and come out stronger as a result, entering this game with a five-game win streak in tow. Over that span of games has been wins over conference-leaders Arizona, UCLA and Oregon. The Bears were last in action at Oregon State last weekend, escaping Corvallis with a 60-59 victory and moving to 10-5 in conference play.
Larry Krystkowiak's Utes come in at the opposite end of the conference spectrum. Utah is currently four games under .500 overall (11-15), but buried in the conference standings in 10th place at a meager 3-11. The Utes have lost back-to-back games, including last week's 60-50 road loss at Colorado.
California won a defensive struggle against Utah in Salt Lake City on Jan. 24, 62-57. With the win, the Golden Bears now hold an 11-8 all-time mark against the Utes.
The Utes are a consistently strong defensive squad and come into this game leading the Pac-12 in both scoring defense (62.2 ppg) and field-goal percentage defense (.390). The team doesn't put up a lot of points at the other end (64.2 ppg), although Utah does lead the conference in both 3-point accuracy (.362) and free-throw percentage (.751). Utah is powered by a trio of scorers, led by Jarred Dubois' 11.8 ppg. Jordan Loveridge and Jason Washburn are right behind with 11.7 ppg each. After that, the scoring pool dries up, with no other player posting more than 6.0 ppg.
Utah shot just .388 from the floor in the 10-point loss at Colorado last time out. Loveridge led the way in defeat with 12 points. Washburn and Brandon Taylor finished with 10 points apiece, but DuBois struggled, hitting just 2- of-9 from the floor and posting six points.
Cal knows a thing or two about defense as well, ranking second in the conference in scoring defense (63.9 ppg) and third in blocked shots (4.8 bpg). Offensively, the numbers seem modest with the Golden Bears averaging 67.7 ppg on .447 shooting, but the numbers are deceiving, as California benefits from the Pac-12's most explosive scorer in Allen Crabbe. The 6-foot-6 junior is a matchup problem in the backcourt and leads the conference in scoring at 19.0 ppg. Fellow guard Justin Cobbs is a potent scorer as well, pouring in 14.9 ppg, while pacing the team in assists (4.6 apg). Richard Solomon (8.6 ppg, 6.7 rpg) and David Kravish (8.0 ppg, 6.9 rpg) provide limited scoring, but are a solid one-two punch on the boards.
The Golden Bears were up by as many as 14 points in Corvallis, but had to hold on for a one-point win over the Beavers last time out. Cobbs led the way offensively with a game-high 18 points. Tyrone Wallace added 11 points to the cause, helping make up for a rare poor performance by Crabbe, who finished with just six points by going an ugly 2-of-12 from the field.
The Golden Bears are on a huge roll and Utah isn't. California should be able to keep the pressure on to the very end, and may just earn the conference crown if all breaks right.
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