Four weeks ago, Cal emerged with a thrilling win over Utah that appeared to be one of the most important of the year. Utah was a fringe bubble team at the time and perhaps Cal’s biggest competition for 4th place in the Pac-12.
Since then, Utah hasn’t exactly set the world on fire. True, beating Colorado in Boulder is a solid win. Sweeping a home stand against UW and WSU is all well and good, but the Washington schools have exactly one road win not against each other. There’s certainly no shame losing to Oregon on the road, and Stanford is maybe understandable.
But then you get to the shocker. Losing to Oregon State? 5-25, dead-in-the-water Oregon State?! Here’s a list of D1 teams OSU has beaten this year: Prairie View A&M, UT San Antonio, Kent State, Utah. One of these teams is not like the other!
It was a crippling loss for whatever post-season hopes Utah had. From a Cal perspective? Well, it means that our Bears can 1) clinch 4th place in the conference with a win in SLC and 2) still get 4th place with a loss if other games fall our way in the future.
The funny part? This game will likely decide which of these two teams plays Oregon State in the first round of the Pac-12 tournament, and which team gets to wait to play the winner of the 5-seed vs. Oregon State game*.
*Unless Utah gets swept at home this week and USC sneaks into the 5 seed, which would probably be better for Cal anyway.
PG Lorenzo Bonham - His shooting has regressed slightly of late, still an ultra efficient, selective shooter.
G JoJo Zamora - Odd playing time pattern for a player that just doesn’t shoot the ball much. Will probably be expected to do more thanks to a limited rotation.
G Devon Daniels - high 3 star combo guard is a good shooter but also an effective slasher/finisher. Suspended indefinitely by Krystkowiak, no word on if he’ll play.
G Gabe Bealer - Marginal player didn’t even see the court against Cal but started and played 26 minutes filling in for Daniels against Colorado. Appears to be a capable shooter, but not nearly enough minutes to draw conclusions.
F David Collette - Has been Utah’s secondary offensive option since getting fully healthy around mid-season, and has actually been slightly more efficient than Kuzma
F Kyle Kuzma - All-around interior talent is Utah’s go-to offensive option. Excellent rebounder, polished around the basket, excellent ball-handler for his size.
G Sedrick Barefield - Technically a bench player but has played starter minutes for most of Pac-12 play. All around solid player, doesn’t do any one thing in a way that jumps off the stat sheet.
G Parker Van Dyke - 22 year old sophomore just got back from Mormon mission. Two thirds of his shots are 3s.
C Jayce Johnson - Freshman has shot 15-18 from the field since a no-show Bay Area trip, with solid rebounding numbers. Small sample size fluke against good match-ups, or has the light suddenly switched on?
F Tyler Rawson - Southern Utah transfer fancies himself a stretch 4 but hasn’t flashed great shooting. Solid if unspectacular rebounder/rim protector, good passer for his size.
Keys to the game
Ivan, King & Kam defense vs. Kuzma and Collette . . .
One big reason Cal escaped with a home win against Utah? Interior defense. Kuzma and Collette have combined to shoot 58% on their 2 pointers in Pac-12 play. Against Cal, trying to shoot over Cal’s posts, they shot just 11/27 (41%).
. . . without fouling?
On the flip side - when one team can so thoroughly neutralize the biggest source of offense for their opponent, you’d think they wouldn’t need double OT to win. How did Utah stay close? Cal’s posts also had to use 14 of their 15 available fouls in that 50 minute thriller, which gave Kuzma and Collette 17 total free throw attempts. I’m not expecting a friendly whistle on the road, but if the refs could let the big guys bang without calling everything it would probably be in our best interests.
Can Cal reverse the offensive rebounding battle?
Utah was also able to keep the game close because they somewhat unexpectedly won the rebounding battle. Cal has only been outrebounded by two Pac-12 teams - Arizona and Utah. The season numbers indicate that Cal should have a slight advantage on the Utes by virtue of being slightly better on the offensive glass. One way to erase the home court advantage would be to erase Utah’s rebound advantage from the first leg.
Can Cal keep their turnovers down again?
Utah, thankfully, does not run a defense that typically forces many turnovers. To that end, Cal had a microscopic turnover percentage of 12.5% at Haas, which went a long way towards making up for an ugly 7-28 performance from behind the arc. Asking for that to happen again is probably not realistic, something in that ballpark would likely give Cal an excellent chance to win.
At this point, our required prayer for an above average shooting night from the Bears has been spurned so often that I’m thinking that we’re going to have to try something different to earn the favor of the Gods once single elimination play starts. I’m open to any and all ideas.
Our Computer Overlords Predict
Utah 69, Cal 66, 39% chance of a Cal victory.
The computers see two teams that are almost equally good, and give Utah the 3 point home court bump.
There are reasons to be more cynical. The mountain schools have always enjoyed a home court advantage that’s greater than average thanks to altitude. True, Utah hasn’t exactly been the home juggernaut this season, with nearly as many home losses (3) as in the previous 3 years combined (4). Still, nobody gets routine wins in SLC.
On one hand, Utah has not beaten a team as good as Cal at home. On the other hand, they’ve only suffered 3 home losses teams (Butler, UCLA, or Oregon) that are clearly better than the Bears.
Another day, another borderline coin flip. Cal is now 1-2 in their final stretch of toss-up games that could reasonable go either way, with two left.
You want a chance to prove your mettle and build your legacy? How about going to the Rocky Mountains potentially needing a late season road sweep.