Stephen R. Sylvanie / USA TODAY Sports

Cal junior Kingsley Okoroh was tasked with walling off Utah's David Collette in the Bears' Pac-12 Tournament upset

LAS VEGAS -- Big Kingsley Okoroh had a big presence about him on Thursday night, says Cal assistant Tim O'Toole. We break down what went into Okoroh's big performance in the Bears' quarterfinal win in the Pac-12 Tournament.

LAS VEGAS -- Utah head coach Larry Krystkowiak called it "disheartening," but, in many ways, expected. After No. 5-seed California -- which upset the No. 4-seed Utes on Thursday in the Pac-12 Tournament -- took a 30-point beating last week in Salt Lake City, the Bears came out on fire. Senior Jabari Bird said that Cal didn't let Utah "punk" his team again. 

"I know if we got our butts whooped by 30 a week ago, we'd probably have a little different edge to us," Krystkowiak said. "You can't control human nature. But I don't think our guys were thinking about having a feather in our cap because we beat them the last time by 30. We had a good week of practice. We were dialed in. That team from the beginning kind of punched us in the mouth."

That punching started down low, with junior center Kingsley Okoroh.

"We owed them from last week, and we owed them from last year," Okoroh said, referencing the Bears' semifinal loss a year ago to the same Utes. "There was definitely some juice in there."

That juice wasn't squeezed over the last 24 hours. It just started bubbling up, organically. "We didn't really talk about it, but that was the feeling -- we knew what needed to be done," Okoroh said. "We came here to win. We came here to win the Tournament, and Utah was in our way."

Okoroh played like a man possessed, pulling down 10 rebounds (three short of his career high, set on Jan. 5) and batting away three blocks -- all in the second half. His six blocks in two games of the Pac-12 Tournament give him 70 for the season, three away from tying David Kravish's all-time program single-season record of 73, set in 2014.

"It's funny," said Cal assistant Tim O'Toole, who, along with Wyking Jones, works with the Bears' big men. "With King, Charlie [Moore] was like that, too, and we needed it. With Kam, Kam had four points in the first four minutes, which was probably the lift that we hadn't had, and King really came in and controlled the lane."

In the first half, Okoroh was instrumental in two defining statistics: Cal had a 12-0 advantage in second-chance points, and an 8-0 advantage in offensive rebounds. The Bears are averaging 11.7 offensive rebounds per game -- third in the Pac-12 -- on the season, and 11.9 in conference play (tied for second). On Thursday, they pulled down 12. Over the last four games of the regular season, Cal averaged just 9.0 offensive rebounds per game.

"We know we're a good offensive rebounding team," said Okoroh. "We've been that way for the majority of the year. We just had to get back to doing it. Obviously, you've got the best rebounder in the country in Ivan [Rabb], and then me and Kameron [Rooks] just try to follow his lead."

On Thursday, though, Rabb -- while aggressive, and deliberate -- only pulled down six rebounds, and while he scored 12 points, six of those came at the free-throw line. The task of backing down Kyle Kuzma and David Collette fell to Rooks and Okoroh. With Utah being a more traditional half-court team (a 16-0 fast-break points margin in the last meeting between the two teams notwithstanding), the Utes rely heavily on their big men. Kuzma got his points -- 23 on the night -- but nine of those came from three-point range (he went 3-of-5 from outside the arc) and two more came at the charity stripe.

"He did a nice job defending the rim, certainly had some nice blocked shots," Krystkowiak said of Okoroh. "I didn't see exactly how many rebounds he had, but, I mean, the dude's big. I've seen a lot of big guys before. Between him and Rooks, ten rebounds. So that's a stellar performance, I think, on his part. He does a nice job, you know, taking up space and rebounding and doing his thing. So when Dave [Collette] got a couple fouls, Jayce [Johnson] came in in little spurts, but we really ended up having to play small. That's where we got ourselves in trouble a little bit. But credit to not just he, but there were a lot of guys that played well on their part, and they bounced back from a game yesterday, which we didn't have to play. Obviously, the disappointment in that. I think it took us a while to wake up. But for them to come out with the kind of energy and get us in that category, the rebounding and the fouls and energy statistics, was disheartening." While other teams in the conference (like Friday night's opponent -- No. 1-seed Oregon) rely on the press, speed and sustained barrages of turnovers and steals, Utah plays a slower game, allowing true bigs -- the 7-foot, 250-pounders who dominated the game 20 years ago -- to make an impact.

"He had a presence about him," O'Toole said of Okoroh. "That's what we keep saying, and Wy does a great job of doing this, as well, is that you have to play with an energy and a presence. It's a confidence thing with King."

Okoroh drew one of two fouls in the span of two minutes on Collette in the first half, sending him to the bench from 9:56 to 5:42, during which the Utes went scoreless.

"I think it was gigantic," O'Toole said. "It's all about winning, somehow, winning. We're playing against good teams, and there are going to be these ebbs and flows, but when you can have that segment where -- and Tyler Rawson has played well, and when we played at home, he played well, and everyone played well against us in Salt Lake -- to have Collette go out with fouls ... at that point in time [during Collette's absence], King was gigantic."

"I think it was good, because it gave Ivan more space to operate," Okoroh said. "Having their bigs in foul trouble, it gave the team more room to operate, and it just helped us."

The size differential between Okoroh and Rooks, and Kuzma and Collette -- a combined 14 feet, 1 inch, and 517 pounds for Rooks and Okoroh, compared with 13 feet, 7 inches and 441 pounds for Kuzma and Collette -- allowed the Bears' bigs to impose their will. 

"With all three of us attacking the glass, it's tough for them," Okoroh said. "We had to keep Kuzma off the glass. He's a terrific rebounder, so we have to keep him off the glass. I think he still ended up with a good amount of rebounds. Collette, we just had to stop him. He likes going over his left shoulder, and me and Kameron, we just had to make sure he didn't score. I thought we did a good job. We could have been better, but for the most part, we did a good job."

Collette struggled to find any kind of clear look inside, shooting 5-of-9 from the field, as Okoroh set up a wall down low. Collette used a variety of moves to try and get around Cal's Tower of London, but it would take him two, sometimes three moves to even find room enough to pass the ball out. His frustration showed, as he was dinged with four fouls.

In the previous outing, Collette had gone 4-of-5 from the field, and 4-of-5 from the free throw line. He only attempted one free throw on Thursday. His final lines may have looked similar -- 11 points, 3 rebounds on Thursday, 12 points and four rebounds last week -- but the Bears were more disciplined in dealing with him, and more effective in shutting down his opportunities in the low post, when his teammates tried to go to him.

"The one thing King did a great job of, and Kam did, too, [Collette] tries to go right all the time," O'Toole said. "He's crafty, but there was nowhere to go for him tonight. They did a good job staying on him, trying to force him back, and go left, and wall him up, which they did ... There's something to be said for when you can control, and not give up easy buckets. They scored lay-ups at the end, and they did in the first half, but that one stretch [when Collette was out], there was nothing inside, because King was protecting that whole area, which puts a lot of pressure on your perimeter guys."

So, the Bears went to a zone defense. Utah only hit one three against Cal's zone.

"When they went small, some of those times we had to take [Okoroh] out because we didn't think our zone was strong enough," Martin said. "So when we were zone, we had to take him out because of switching purposes. But when they had their traditional bigs, I thought he did a great job protecting the rim."

"His presence today," O'Toole said, "was massive. In these tournaments, you realize, yesterday was 'Mingo [Stephen Domingo], today it was King. It's going to be somebody else. You can't get down. You can't. You're going to get your opportunity, and you've got to make the most of it, and tonight, big King had a big presence to him."

"As a team, we had to give it our all," Okoroh said. "We came to win the Pac-12 Tournament. To do that, we have to play hard. We have to bring all we have, to try to make the NCAA Tournament. I fed off the team's energy."

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