With two teams fighting to keep their NCAA tournament hopes alive, the matchup between Cal and Utah was bound to be a good one. It took Utah a while to wake up, but they crawled back to take their first lead of the game with 6:05 to play and then it became a game the month of March would envy. Behind the efforts of Lorenzo Bonam and Jabari Bird, the two teams would exchange blows over the last five minutes of regulation and over the two overtime periods. But like any fight, someone needs the knockout blow. That blow was delivered by a Bird alley-ooo from Charlie Moore with three seconds remaining to give Cal the 77-75 victory.
Paging the Utes
In a very critical road game with Utah flirting on the edge of the NCAA bubble, it is incomprehensible that the team would not be locked in and focused right fro the tip. But then the tip happened. Before the crowd had time to find their seats after buying popcorn, Utah had already forfeited their first six possessions. In a blink of an eye Utah had missed their first three shots and turned the ball over three times, gifting an 8-0 lead to the Bears.
Usually the Utes are able to gather their composure and stop the bleeding rather quickly, but this time the tourniquet was useless. The Utes would go continue to carelessly turn the ball over to the tune of seven turnovers in the first 15 possession. On the eight possessions that they held onto the ball Utah only made two of 10 shots, including missing two easy lay-ups.
The Utes looked lost and without identity and as a result they found themselves down 18-4 after eight and a half minutes of play.
Collette to the Rescue
David Collette once again found himself in foul trouble and was forced to sit the bench for 15 minutes of the first half. With a clean slate in the second half, he went to work with his team trailing 34-26. With Collette on the floor Utah began to run sets out of the pick and roll. Kameron Rooks was never going to be able to move his feet fast enough to keep up with the collapsing Collette and the big man quickly scored six of Utah’s first eight points of the second half.
However, after a few minutes the bench missed his presence and so Collette picked up his third foul with Utah down 38-34. When Collette checked back in under the 12 minute mark his team was down 45-41. On the very first play Collette backed Rooks down in the paint and scored with a nifty back to the basket move. After six minutes of him on the court Utah had gained its first lead of the game 51-50.
Dodging a Bullet
In the past, Utah has struggled to close out games, and this game would be no different. Utah held a three point lead with 3:21 remaining and then decided to slow down the tempo. As they’ve shown, when they do this Utah struggles to get quality shots out of their possessions. Leading by one with less than two minutes, Bonam had a critical mental mistake. With the shot clock reaching its limit, Bonam continued to dribble the ball around the floor without a purpose until he looked up and saw no time left on the clock. Unable to get a shot off, Utah gave the ball back to Cal.
Utah came up with a big defensive stance forcing Ivan Rabb to miss a shot with 10.4 seconds left, but Kuzma let the rebound bounce out of his hands, giving the ball back to Cal. Collette then carelessly reached from behind to foul Moore as he started his move to the hoop. Moore would have two free throws to take the lead. After tying the game at 55 with the first shot, he missed the second and once again Kuzma mishandled the rebound. The refs called the ball in favor of Utah and were unable to overturn it, so Utah was able to avoid giving Call the ball back under their hoop.
Extra Five Minutes
After finishing regulation locked at 55, the teams would battle for five more minutes. With just over a minute left Bonam picked up a loose ball doomed to be a costly turnover and quickly crossed the ball to Kuzma on the weak side for a shot off the glass, tying the game at 60. Seconds after the critical shot, Kuzma was whistled for a moving screen away from the ball. With 50.1 seconds, Utah handed the ball back to the Bears. On the next play Bird slipped the sideline and with his toe on the line hit a deep two pointer with Collette right in his face. Bears led 62-60, 22.5 remaining.
In its last efforts, Utah dropped the ball to Collette in the paint, but this time he was blocked by Rooks. Luckily the ball went out of bounds and Utah would get one more attempt. Collette caught the ball on the elbow as Kuzma flashed to the low block. Collette dumped the ball down and Kuzma tied the game at 62 on a reverse layup. Another overtime.
Bird Vs Bonam
In a game where the whole country was watching the Kuzma and Rabb contest, Bird and Bonam would steal the show. With a minute left in the second overtime Bonam drove hard to the hoop and tied things at 70 with a left handed lay-up. Bird then fought his way to the paint and kissed a jumper off the glass, to lift the Bears by two.
Next exchange Bonam fought his way to the rim and scored through a lot of contact from Rooks. The contact was called before the shot and the bucket was waved off. Bonam calmly made both free throws, 72 all. Then Bird responded by hitting a three pointer with 33 seconds left to regain the lead. Bonam wasn’t done, with the victory all but slipping away, he found his way to the corner and launched a three that would empty the net with 21 seconds left. With the game tied at 75, both Bonam and Bird had scored six points in the second additional period.
Moore brought the ball up the court for Cal and watched the seconds tick before he made his move. As Utah adjusted to his drive, they somehow forgot about the man who brought them this far, Bird slipped behind Collette and Moore lobbed the ball to the hoop for an uncontested alley-ooo dunk for Bird. His 26th point of the night was the difference in the game as Cal knocked out the Utes in double overtime 77-75.
On tired legs, Utah will now make the short trip over the face the Stanford Cardinal. Before the Colorado game (late night Thursday game), the Cardinal had an 11-10 (3-5) record. Utah has struggled historically at Maples Pavilion, but will look to split the road trip Saturday at 2:30 PM MT, the game will air on Fox Sports 1.