Last year, the Runnin’ Utes were knocked out of the Pac-12 Tournament on a buzzer-beater in the semifinal round. This season, they were kept in it because of a buzzer-beater from Lorenzo Bonam to send the game into overtime, where Utah beat Cal, 82-78.
“My mindset was to be aggressive and attack when I could,” Bonam said.
Jakob Poeltl led the way for the Utes with 29 points and 11 rebounds. Behind him, Bonam finished with 18. Brandon Taylor had 12 points and Jordan Loveridge registered a double-double with a dozen points and 10 boards. The team finished shooting 43.1 percent from the floor, while Cal finished not far behind at 42.6 percent.
Head coach Larry Krystkowiak admitted that he was getting nervous toward the end of regulation and overtime since anything can happen in March. Overall, he couldn’t be prouder of the way his team finished strong.
“What a day of basketball here at the MGM, really,” Krystkowiak said. “First game overtime, our game overtime, all the top seeds winning games. It’s March Madness at its finest, and I’m just extremely proud of our guys for not giving in.”
With the win, the Utes advance to face Oregon in their first Pac-12 Championship Game since joining the conference.
Utah got on the board first, but Cal responded with a dunk, to which Poeltl responded with a three-point play. Then, three consecutive makes by Taylor, Loveridge and then Kuzma gave Utah an early 14-4 lead at the 16:24 mark in the first half.
But Cal quickly got back into the game after going on a 10-0 run, tying it at 14 as the Utes were held scoreless for nearly five minutes. Chris Reyes ended the drought when he knocked down a free throw to give the Utes a slight one-point edge.
Cal soon took advantage of its depth and took its first lead of the game with under 11 minutes left in the first half. But Taylor changed that once he made another three, despite the Cal band tricking him into shooting it faster by counting down the shot clock five seconds too fast. After another three-point play from Poeltl, Utah lead 21-17.
On his birthday, Isaiah Wright gave the Utes a boost off the bench when he drained a three-pointer to retake the lead for Utah after a Cal response. But the Golden Bears put together their own three-point play after Wright was called for a foul and the Bears went up 27-26.
Cal ended the half on a 10-2 run and led 37-31 going into the locker room.
At the beginning of the second half, Taylor stole the ball and returned it the other way for a layup to cut the margin to two points. After a couple of baskets, Bonam drilled a three-pointer to close the gap to just one point. Then, Bonam took it to the hole for a layup and Utah climbed on top, 42-41.
Cal then scored a quick five points to lead by four, and as Utah was trying to narrow the margin, it was called for a shot-clock violation. Tyrone Wallace then drained a three-pointer to give the Bears a seven-point advantage.
Utah went on a bit of a run and got within one point, getting the fans on their feet. Utah kept working at it, as the lead continued to switch between two and four points with under five minutes to play.
Soon enough, the Utes made a couple of stops on defense, and Poeltl completed another three-point play to give Utah a one-point lead at 66-65 with 48 seconds left in regulation. The two teams traded points, and Taylor hit two big free throws, something he struggled to do earlier in the season, giving Utah a one-point lead with 10 seconds left.
“It felt great,” Taylor said. “I’ve learned. I’ve been there enough, so I just stepped up and hit clutch free throws.”
Cal drove to the other end and, once again because of an offensive rebound, got the basket, and Poeltl fouled. Cal led by two with four seconds left, but Bonam made a layup at the buzzer to send the game into overtime.
In overtime, Poeltl got things started by getting a couple of points, then Bonam hit another big shot. The Utes were locked in on defense and led by five points with 55 seconds left and held on to this the rest of the way.
Utah will take on the Ducks on Saturday night at 7 p.m. PT in the championship game of the tournament.