Utah coach Jim Boylen said, "At the end you just have to make a play." Green stumbled a bit, but his high arching shot over Ryan Anderson dropped through, leaving the Bears no time for a reply. Said Green, "It just happened to go in for me." Anderson called it "a prayer." Cal fell to 7-2 on the season.
Cal jumped out to a 3-0 lead on Nikola Knezevic's driving lay-up off the opening tip. Utah responded with a three by point guard Tyler Kepkay, and Cal didn't lead again until there were three minutes and fifty seconds left in the game. Utah built a 33-16 lead based on excellent shooting and a physical defensie.
After the game, Boylen said, "This is a process with this team. We have to get tougher, we have to grow. I thought we came out focused." Utah doubled the post at every opportunity, and cut off Cal's transition game by focusing on Jerome Randle. The Utah coach said, "We thought he was the key to their transition." The Cal sophomore had a rough first half, with no points and three turnovers.
With the post players getting doubled, Cal tried to respond from the perimeter, but missed their first eight shots from behind the arc. Anderson said, "Their objective was to double down on me and DeVon. We weren't the offensive team that we normally are."
With 2:15 left in the half, Anderson finally nailed the first three for the Bears. Hardin followed with a steal and drive to the rim, but he missed the dunk. It was a play that would come back to haunt the Bears at the end. In the post-game interview, Hardin said, "Keep it simple next time."
A Patrick Christopher three cut the Utah advantage to 37-29 at the half. Utah had scored on an impressive 56% of their shots in the opening twenty minutes, and were 4 of 9 on threes. Cal struggled with 42% shooting, 2 for 10 from outside the arc with 9 turnovers. The Bears had only two fast break points in the half. Despite the offensive struggles, both Hardin and Anderson cited the team's poor defensive play as the key factor. Ben Braun commented, "We didn't turn on our defensive pressure until the last 6 or 7 minutes of the game."
Cal continued to cut into the visitor's lead as the second half began. Two free throws by Anderson made it 53-52 with 7:38 left. The crowd was roaring, but former Bishop O'Dowd star Johnnie Bryant hit consecutive threes to push the lead back to seven. Randle lost Bryant in the left corner for the second of those; Utah did a good job of reversing the ball to the weak side.
Cal didn't fold after Bryant's clutch shots. Seven straight points knotted the game at 59-all with 4:40 remaining. The Utes regained the lead on a Luke Nevill lay-up, but Christopher responded with a tough three at 3:50 to give the Bears the lead at 62-61.
Jamal Boykin's first game for Cal
Utah went back to Nevill, and he scored again over Hardin. Randle turned the ball over, and Lawrence Borha made both free throws at 1:35 for a 65-62 Utah lead. Two free throws from Hardin cut it to one with 1:15 left, and Cal got the big stop they needed. Knezevic was fouled with 37.9 left, but he missed the first and made the second of his fou8ld shots. The score was tied at 65, and the stage was set for Green's heroics.
Following the game, Braun said, "I was disappointed because I thought we've been doing a good job making the simple play. I thought our shot selection was poor. Seven assists is a discouraging number for us."
Cal has been averaging over 15 assists per game, but in this contest they added 13 turnovers to the cauldron. Cal did not do a good job passing out of the double teams: "We have to take what the defense gives us, " noted Braun, adding, "We were a lot more aggressive defensively in the second half." Utah's scoring dropped to 41% after the break.
The comeback was the good news, but overall it was a disappointing performance by the Bears. They hit only 4 of 21 from beyond the arc, and settled too often for the perimeter shot. It is near certain that Cal will face a lot of post doubles in the conference season, and they will have to do a much better job of handling that defense.
The disappointment from the players and the Head Coach was evident in the post-game session. The Bears' first opportunity to fix things occurs next weekend in the Golden Bear Classic. Cal will face Long Beach State at 5:00 PM on Friday the 28th.
Ryan Anderson and Patrick Christopher led Cal with 19 points each. Anderson also had 13 rebounds.
In his Bay Area homecoming, Johnnie Bryant led Utah with 14.
Both teams shot well from the line. Utah was a perfect 7-7, while Cal hit 15-18.
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