Jeff Swinger / USA TODAY Sports

RECAP: Utah out-scores Cal by 20 in the first half, rolls to a 74-44 win

Cal's postseason hopes dim in its third-worst loss since Cuonzo Martin took over for Mike Montgomery.

California, as senior guard Grant Mullins has said multiple times this season, gets its offensive spark from its defense -- ranked ninth in the nation in defensive efficiency.

Head coach Cuonzo Martin has said repeatedly that the Bears' offense has to run through sophomore forward Ivan Rabb. Only one of those things held true on Wednesday against Utah, and not in the way that the Bears would have preferred. the first four minutes at the Huntsman Center on Wednesday night, both the Bears and Utes played like a pair of teams desperate for a first-round bye in the Pac-12 Tournament. Cal was one game ahead of Utah for fourth place in the Pac-12, with only a Saturday morning match-up against Colorado remaining.

With 12:17 to go in the first stanza, the Bears trailed the Utes 10-9, but in just one minute and 40 seconds, the hope of securing that first-round bye and Cal's vaunted defense all but evaporated, as did any semblance of offensive competency. 

One missed rotation and a sagging defender led to back-to-back triples by Sedrick Barefield (9:18) and Lorenzo Bonam (8:47), kicking off a 10-0 sprint that knocked Cal back on its heels. The Bears went 0-for-3 during that stretch, while Utah hit its next four shots, three from three-point range. Cal never again found its footing. Rabb had just one field goal attempt through the first 25 minutes of play (he finished 0-for-3) of what would turn out to be a 74-44 Utes win. 

The 30-point margin was the worst loss by Cal (19-10, 10-7 in Pac-12) this season, and the worst since a 39-point loss to Arizona on March 5, 2015. It was the third time under Martin that the Bears have lost by 30 or more (the third time also came in 2015, a Jan. 22 loss to Arizona State). Cal had its worst shooting performance under Martin, going 12-for-52 from the field (23.1%), while the Utes went 27-for-53 (50.9%).

Utah (19-10, 10-7) imposed its will both in transition and in the paint. The Bears committed eight turnovers in the first half for 11 Utes points. Cal gave up 12 fast-break points while scoring none before intermission (final margin: 16-0), while Rabb got two real looks down low, going 0-for-1 from the field. As such, the Bears got just eight points in the paint in the first half, while giving up 24. That margin spread to 44-14 by game's end.

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Cal went through scoring droughts of 3:22 and 2:37 in the first half, and at one point went 4:11 without a field goal. The Bears didn't hit a field goal for the first 6:10 of the second half, and also had a field goal drought of 3:43 later in the period. From 11:52 to 2:57 in the second half, Cal had just a single field goal.

The Bears started the game 3-of-4 from the field, but hit just three of their next 16 before the halftime buzzer sounded. To try to gain some footing, defensively, Cal went to a 2-3 zone, daring the Utes to shoot, and shoot, they did. Bonam went 4-of-6 in the first half for 11 points, and Barefield went 3-of-4 for eight points, including an up-and-under lay-in off a transition pass from Parker Van Dyke. With 14:59 left in the second half, Barefield again drive the baseline uncontested, and laid in another up-and-under to give the Utes a 49-25 lead.

On the next possession, when the Bears finally did get the ball to Rabb, he threw up a wild shot off a drop step out of the double team, but it came nowhere near going in. Jayce Johnson picked up the rebound, and fed Kyle Kuzma, who found Van Dyke for the easy lay-up off the glass with 14:24 to go.

Kuzma finished 5-of-10 from the field for 12 points, with four rebounds and a game-high four assists, more than Cal had as a team. Barefield-- averaging 9.1 points and 23.9 minutes this season -- finished with a game-high 14, going 5-of-8 from the field, with three rebounds and two assists. Only Mullins scored in double digits, with 11, for the Bears. Rabb scored a quiet eight points (all at the free throw line) and pulled down a game-high eight rebounds.

Cal now takes on Colorado at 11 a.m., on Saturday, in Boulder, Colo. Top Stories