In a rematch against Cal, this time at home, Utah caught fire at just the right moments to outlast the Golden Bears in a 73-64 win on Wednesday night. Compared to the first time the Utes faced off against Cal, head coach Larry Krystkowiak thinks the team was a lot more focused right from the tip.
“We played with some more energy,” Krystkowiak said. “It was a close basketball game. We struggled from three, but we limited them to one shot [per possession]. There was great energy in the building.”
For the second game in a row, Jakob Poeltl led the Utes with 21 points and also added nine rebounds. While he continues to find success on offense, he thinks the entire team’s defensive plan was up to par and executed well.
“We still obviously have stuff to work on, but it feels great to win a [few] in a row after a rough start,” Poeltl said. “We got to keep winning. It was a great team effort on defense and we had our rotations down.”
Kyle Kuzma finished with 15 points, 13 of which came in the second half. He had five rebounds to add to his stat line, while Brandon Taylor also finished with 15 points and six assists.
Utah finished the night shooting 48.1 percent from the floor and was 18-of-28 from the free-throw line. Cal shot 38.3 percent.
Utah got off to a hot start in the early minutes of the first half. After a made basket by each team, Jordan Loveridge hit an early three to give the Utes a 5-2 advantage. However, a lane violation on the Utes let the Golden Bears get another shot at a free throw, and they took full advantage to go up 8-7.
Brekkott Chapman hit a three to give the Utes a six-point lead later in the half, but Cal then responded with its own three. Poeltl responded further with a three-point play after getting a hook shot to drop, plus the free throw.
Chapman had the hot hand off of the bench and muscled his way on the inside to get a basket down low, forcing Cal to call a timeout with the Utes up 19-11.
Dakarai Tucker drained a three-pointer to get the crowd really going with a big 24-11 lead, but the Golden Bears tried to cut into the lead with another three-pointer of their own.
Cal made it a five-point game with under two minutes left, a three-point game with under one minute, then a one-point game with 5.6 seconds left on the clock in the first half. Utah was unable to get another basket before the half ended and went into the locker room with a 35-34 lead.
Cal continued its hot streak from the first half to take a five-point lead in the opening minutes of the second. Then Kuzma got a couple of layups to fall, Taylor hit back-to-back threes and Poeltl had a dunk as the Utes took a seven-point lead for the quick turnaround.
“Brandon [Taylor] gave us a big lift,” Krystkowiak said.
Soon enough, Poeltl had another three-point play, and a swat from Kuzma led to a shot clock violation for the Golden Bears. Poeltl was getting to the basket with ease against Cal’s front court and gave Utah its largest lead of the night, 14 points, while on a 21-2 run.
But Cal started to cut into Utah’s lead yet again, making it just a four-point game with under six minutes to go. Taylor then attacked the basket and got the hoop, and the foul, to put the Utes up by seven. Then Poeltl used a spin move to get to the hoop and extend the lead to nine.
The Bears started to cut into this lead slightly and made it an eight-point game with 50 seconds left on the clock. However, Cal’s late-game effort was to no avail, as they were forced to foul the Utes on the other end of the court.
This is Utah’s fourth win a row, and Krystkowiak is glad his team was able to bounce back from an emotional win against Washington on Sunday.
“Nice return, comeback game,” Krystkowiak said. “Exactly what we were looking for.”
The Utes are back on the floor this Saturday for another rematch, this time against Stanford at 3 p.m. MST.