You know you're in for a real treat when the announcers emphasize "avoid sleep-walking" as one of the keys to the game.
Although it was a promising start when Kravish blocked the Utes' first shot and Kamp promptly tossed in a lefty hook, the next few minutes were exactly the road-malaise that we all feared. With Cal shooting 1 of 7, Utah was able to seize an early 6-2 advantage.
Fortunately, the Bears could lean on Jorge and Harper as battle-tested veterans. The two seniors quickly scored the next six points and tied everything up at 8.
With the team settling in, Monty was able to go to his bench early and put in Smith and Thurman. The move paid immediate dividends as the Thurminator struck for two baskets underneath.
While the Bear offense started clicking and made assists on their first five baskets, the defense struggled initially to find the Ute shooters. Somehow, their 32% FG shooting guard found himself 5 early points.
But then the Bears picked up their energy level and their collective activity started forcing turnovers. Although the perimeter shooters remained cold, Cal's big men feasted off of easy baskets in transition or in the post. Despite having the starting guards go a combined 1-11, it was still a 22-16 lead with seven minutes to play.
While Utah continued to struggle taking care of the ball, Jorge finally broke the lid off the bucket with a 3. A possession later, he found Kamp underneath who continued his strong all-around game by hitting a pair of free throws.
The game looked to be solidly blue and gold at 29-21 with 1:54 to play. Then Jorge scared us all to death when he went down hard and had to be helped to the bench by a trainer. Fortunately, he returned to play just in time for Kamp to alertly throw it ahead to find Cobbs for a buzzer-beating 3.
Despite a scoreless half from Crabbe and very little production from the guards, it was still a 35-23 Golden Bear lead at half. Fortunately, Utah couldn't stop coughing up the ball and the Cal bigs came to play. It sounded like good ball movement lead to lots of easy points in the paint.
The second half began for Cal as a microcosm of the first: two easy baskets underneath, an open jumper given up on D, and a clanked open 3.
Five minutes in, the lead was sixteen at 44-28. Interestingly, Emerson Murray was the first reserve guard off the bench. Although Smith provided some scoring and assists in the 1st half, he once again struggled with turnovers. The Bears remained cold from the outside, but their crisp passing continued to produce all manner of buckets in the paint.
But before the game devolved into a laugher, the Utes stepped it up and went on a 9-0 run to cut the lead back to single digits. Monty was forced to go back to his starters. Jorge went on a 3-0 run of his own to extend back to double-digits.
Kamp added 4 more of his own en route to Cal re-establishing a comfortable 55-41 advantage with minutes to play.
With the exception of Jorge being Jorge, the guards largely took on role of facilitators and focused on working it inside to the bigs. Harper filled up the stat sheet. Not only did he lead the team in scoring with 17, but he also had seven boards and tied his career high with 5 assists. Kravish had a strong effort of his own with 10 points, six boards, and 4 big blocks.
Considering that Utah had 18 turnovers, this one could have been a blowout of tragic proportions if the Bears had any semblance of their normal backcourt production. Let's just hope the Cal guards are ready to bounce back and return to form.
Although Monty couldn't have been happy with the 2nd half lapse that forced him to play his starters more minutes than he wanted, let's just take the W and get ready for the Buffaloes.