BERKELEY – The California men's basketball team came into Wednesday's game against Utah knowing that a win was crucial to a potential bid into the NCAA Tournament. With two minutes to go and the game tied, the Bears had the fate of their season resting in their hands, but Cal was once again plagued by the same complacency and mistakes that have haunted the Bears for the last six weeks, causing them to fall at home to Utah by the score of 63-59.
"As the coach, everything's on me, but we had several opportunities at the end of the game to win and just didn't make any of the plays that we had to make in a situation where we had good looks," said head coach Mike Montgomery. "As badly as both teams played, it really came down to, at the end, [Brandon] Taylor making two threes."
Despite Cal (18-12, 9-8 in Pac-12) starting well coming out of the locker room, getting four points from David Kravish and sprinting out to a 7-0 lead to start the game, the Bears' shooting stalled throughout the rest of the game, at times going several minutes between field goals. Cal drained 18 field goals to a staggering 13 turnovers, and had no double-digit scorers until over 33 minutes had gone by. Utah (20-9, 9-8) wasn't much better. The Utes went over three minutes between baskets several times, and often struggled to get any form of offense going.
The Bears began the game with the same line up from the last game with Ricky Kreklow, Tyrone Wallace, and Justin Cobbs in the backcourt, but without freshman injured center Kameron Rooks, Montgomery was forced to bring in freshman guard Jordan Matthews and Christian Behrens earlier than expected and go with a small lineup. In addition, Montgomery kept Solomon and Cobbs in for much of the first half despite foul trouble – and despite Solomon taking (and missing) just one shot – leaving what looked like a fatigued and sloppy team late in the half.
"We got to find a way to have fun," said Montgomery. "We got to find a way to make this fun again, so that everything that happens doesn't way so heavily on everyone. We've just got to find a way to make it fun. I don't know what else and losing's certainly no fun. We've struggled to get everyone thinking positively. We keep practicing, and showing them what they need to do, but I'm not sure that's going to make any difference."
[ANALYSIS: Just Plain Offensive]
Solomon led all scorers with 19 points in the game, with many coming with the game already decided. In addition, Kravish played well early as he led the team in the first four minutes, scoring four, before slowing down and finishing the game with eight points.
Cobbs had an unusually quiet night, with just six points, while back court mate Kreklow added five points before fouling out. Wallace was the first player to break into double digits in the second half, and finished with 11 points.
"Emotionally, we're just really spent," Montgomery said. "We're having a hard time emotionally sticking with this thing now. All that having been said, we still have a chance as odd as it sounds if we can figure out how to get this thing together Saturday to finish in the top four (of the Pac-12). The problem is scoring has become so difficult for us that it's become really hard. You can only play so good on defense."
The Bears shot 39.1% from the field and 31.3% from three, while Utah was only marginally worse, shooting 35.1% from the field and 27.8% from three. Utah won the rebounding battle, 39-34, but were dominant in transition and on defense, winning the turnover battle, 13-6, which allowed for 15 second-chance points to go along with an 17-4 points-off-turnovers margin.
"A lot of people are too focused on their individual play instead of the team and I think that's getting to us," said Solomon. "That's trickling down from one guy to the next and we got to get past that. The ultimate goal is to win."
Utah was led by Brandon Taylor, who scored 13 points with four rebounds, while star scorer Delon Wright contributed 11 points and four assists, with big man Jordan Loveridge adding 12 points and six boards. Although Wright and Loveridge, known as the Utes two best players, contributed 23 points, they shot a combined 6-for-27 from the field.
In the first half, Cal's offense was extremely sluggish as the Bears shot 40.9% from the field, resulting in a paltry 24 points. On the other bench, the Utes didn't fair much better. Utah went on many droughts throughout the first half as the Utes shot 42.3% from the field and 28.6% from three, going 2-of-7.
Cal was able to tie the game with 3:29 remaining, but the Bears once again let the game slip through their fingers, with the Utes going on a 13-9 run over the last 1:50.
Asked what has gone on with his team over the past several weeks, as Cal has gone 4-8 in conference play, Solmon said, simply, "I don't know."
Cal has now lost three straight and needs a miracle finish to the season if it is to have any hope of making the NCAA Tournament. The Bears looked like a dangerous tournament team early in the season, but if they want to hold onto any hope of making the Dance, then they must quickly regroup and be ready for a tough Colorado this Saturday, for a loss would surely eliminate them from contention.
Slip Sliding Away
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