SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Utah went into its game against California 10th in scoring defense in the nation and hadn’t allowed an opponent to top 72 points all season.
However, the Bears got off to a solid start, shooting 54 percent from the field over the first 15 minutes and were on pace to reach 85 points. The 11th-ranked Utes then returned to form and limited California to 29 points over the next 25 minutes in a 76-71 victory Sunday night for Utah’s 17th straight home win.
“We weren’t doing a very good job of guarding them,” Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak said. “This was the first time in a long time that they were scoring in the early phase of their offense and then when they did miss a shot, we got outhustled to some 50-50 balls.
“We just didn’t have much energy and they were playing a heck of a lot harder offensively than we were defensively.”
Trailing 32-26 with 5 minutes left before halftime, Utah (20-4, 10-2 Pac-12) closed the period on a 14-2 run to take the lead and didn’t trail after the break thanks to an influx of energy on the defensive end.
The Golden Bears (16-10, 6-7) went 11:33 from late in the first half to early in the second with just one field goal. The Utes clamped down defensively after Tyrone Wallace’s strong start to hold Cal to 41.4 percent shooting in the second half after it shot 50 percent in the first.
Delon Wright got the crowd into the game with a steal and a breakaway two-handed, double-pump dunk to take a 44-34 lead early in the second half. He then blocked a shot on the ensuing Cal possession.
“When guys are able to get steals and easy layups or block a shot and get easy fast-break points, it helps the whole team,” Wright said. “Our energy seems to rise.”
Jakob Poeltl had 18 points and eight rebounds while Wright added 16 points for the Utes and Brandon Taylor finished with 13.
Wallace led Cal with 26 points, including 17 in the first half, and Jabari Bird scored 21 as the Golden Bears’ five-game winning streak was snapped.
“We just didn’t make plays down the stretch of the first half and they did,” Bird said. “That gave them the boost they needed and they used that to their advantage the second half. We just couldn’t bounce back from it.”
California: The Golden Bears shot 39.2 percent from 3-point range during their five-game winning streak. They made 28.6 percent Sunday. … Cal was called for two 5-second violations while trying to inbound the ball in the first half. … Center David Kravish is now three rebounds from passing Doug True and moving to No. 5 on the school’s career rebounding list.
Utah: The Utes have been ranked for 13 weeks this season, including the last 11 in a row. That’s the most time the team has been in the poll since the 1999-2000 season. … Utah had a moment of silence before the game to honor assistant coach Andy Hill’s father, Rick, who died Saturday. … The Utes now have back-to-back 20-win seasons for the first time since 2003-05.
Cal guard Jordan Mathews entered Sunday’s game averaging a team-high 17.5 points per game during league play. However, he was held scoreless on 0 for 2 shooting from the field. Mathews played just 14 minutes due to an ankle injury suffered two games ago.
“He couldn’t move at the level he needed to,” Martin said. “It was just hard for him to get going. He tried to play, but he couldn’t move.”
SIGH OF RELIEF
Wright injured an ankle late in the victory and had to be helped off the court by two teammates. He immediately went to the locker room, but returned minutes later. Moments after, Wright checked back into the game. He is scheduled to be evaluated Monday, but Krystkowiak does not expect him to miss any time.
“That was troubling for sure. The life in the building was sucked out of there for a minute,” Krystkowiak said.
California: At Stanford on Saturday.
Utah: At Oregon State on Thursday.
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