Cal can't slip up against improving Utah

With the Pac-12 title in sight, California understands it cannot look past Utah.

BERKELEY, Calif. – On paper, Utah poses as much of a challenge to Pac-12 leader California as a housefly to a charging elephant.

The Golden Bears are closing in on a conference title and well positioned to make the NCAA Tournament. The Utes have won twice since New Year's Day.

Cal did everything but run Utah off the floor in an 81-45 demotion at Haas Pavilion last month.

But there are no freebies, something guard Justin Cobbs and his teammates are well aware of headed to Salt Lake City.

"All these games are must win," Cobbs said. "If we want to win that championship, we can't look past anything. Every game is a must have."

Cal (22-6, 12-3 Pac-12) and Washington are tied for first place, each with three games left to play. And while both teams are on the road to finish out the regular season, head coach Mike Montgomery does not expect the Huskies to lose again.

"For us to finish in first, we're going to have to win all three games," Montgomery said. "That is going to be really hard, but we can only manage what we can manage."

Postseason considerations are also in play, as a win Thursday (6 p.m., NewsTalk 910 AM) would all but assure Cal a top-four finish and first-round bye in the conference tournament next month in Los Angeles. Avoiding an RPI crippling loss would also keep its profile in decent shape for a potential NCAA at-large bid.

As Montgomery said, "The more wins we get, the better off we're going to be."

With the most consistent team in the Pac-12, that shouldn't be an issue. All five starters continue to deliver, but the biggest surprise has been freshman David Kravish.

The 6-foot-9 forward remains a work in progress. Kravish isn't a conventional center, too skinny to bang with the likes of UCLA mammoth Joshua Smith yet. Nor is he a power forward, despite his 59.8 shooting percentage from the field and excellent form.

"It's kind of fun to watch," Montgomery said. "It's hard to put a finger on what he is exactly. He is just successful."

During Cal's five-game winning streak, Kravish has accounted for 10.2 points and eight rebounds per game. His parents, who will attend Sunday's game at Colorado, called the weekend sweep of Oregon and Oregon State his best games yet, even as he makes it a point not to consider such things.

"I try not to think about it too much because I overanalyze everything," Kravish said. "If I think too hard about it, I'll just get myself in a bad place. I just try to take each thing as it comes."

Like Kravish, Utah (5-21, 2-12) has also been playing better of late, though not reflected in the win column. They gave Oregon and Colorado fits at home before losing to the surging Ducks by 11 and Buffaloes by seven last week.

The catalyst seems to be the dismissal of point guard Josh Watkins last month for a violation of team rules.

While the senior was averaging 15.6 points and 4.8 assists per game, leading the team in both categories, a more balanced team has emerged in his absence.

Junior guard Chris Hines is averaging 11.1 points in the nine games since Watkins' abrupt departure, with junior center Jason Washburn adding 10.7 in the same span.

"They just had so many issues early on that it was just one thing after another," Montgomery said. "They are playing better together. I'm sure they are having more fun together."

The challenge for Cal will be preventing Utah from having fun at its expense. Top Stories