Cal men dominate Utah 64-46
Published: Thursday, February 28, 2013 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, February 28, 2013 at 10:27 p.m.
BERKELEY — Six in a row, two more to go.
California is oh so close to another NCAA tournament bid.
Allen Crabbe had 15 points and 11 rebounds, Justin Cobbs added 12 points and seven assists and Cal overcame a sluggish start to overpower Utah 64-46 on Thursday night for its sixth straight win.
Overlooked just a few weeks ago, Cal has suddenly surged near the top of the crowded Pac-12 Conference standings.
Even if the Golden Bears (19-9, 11-5) can't catch Oregon, UCLA or Arizona, they're still in solid position to earn an at-large bid to the Big Dance. Not to mention make a run at the league tournament title, too.
“Let's be honest: We have two games left. It's hard not to look at the standings,” Cobbs said.
While Cal's confidence is soaring, the schedule also has turned in its favor. The final two games of the regular season for the Bears are both at home: against Colorado on Saturday and Bay Area rival Stanford on Tuesday night.
The hottest tandem — and team — in the league is showing why Haas Pavilion has become so tough for the visitors.
In the latest slow start and fast finish, Crabbe and Cobbs helped the Bears reel off 21 straight points to seal their longest winning streak since opening the season 6-0.
They held Utah to its lowest scoring output of the season for the Utes' second straight game, including more than 10 minutes without a basket to go ahead by 16 points early in the second half.
“I think when we get down, we're able to sustain the energy,” Cobbs said. “But we're not coming out trying to go down. It's just the way it's worked out.”
Seems to be a winning formula — even if it makes coach Mike Montgomery grumble.
Jordan Loveridge had nine points and 11 rebounds for the Utes (11-16, 3-12), who have lost three straight and five of six while struggling to find their shooting stroke. No other Utah player scored more than seven points.
Cal also outshot Utah 40 percent to 29 percent and won the rebounding battle 40-34. Both teams had 11 turnovers.
“It's going to be a rough night for you when you've got a combination of turnovers and then we miss open shots,” Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak said.
“You don't have much of a chance to win in an environment like this when you have a combination of those two. It's kind of been the story of our season with some of our turnovers and decision-making.”
Crabbe and Cobb entered the game as the highest-scoring pair of teammates in the league, averaging 33.9 points a game. Crabbe also began the day leading the conference with an average of 19 points per game.
The Utes surprisingly pushed the pace and pushed the Bears around the paint at the start, mixing up zone defenses and getting out on the fast break on almost every possession. Dakarai Tucker took an over-the-rim lob from Brandon Taylor and finished for a two-handed slam, part of a run that put Utah ahead by eight.
The highlights just about ended there. After Loveridge's jumper put Utah ahead 24-19 with 4:17 left in the half, everything changed.
The Bears began being the bruising bullies in the paint. They cooled off Utah's streaky shooters, and the Utes completely lost their calm-and-collected demeanor.
Cal put together a 21-0 run, clamped down on defense and held Utah scoreless for more than 10 minutes until Tucker's fast-break layup finally ended Utah's drought with 14:29 to play in the second half.
By then, it was over.
The Bears had gone ahead 40-24 before the basket, and the crowd at Haas Pavilion had already started chanting its farewells. Even the ever-intense Montgomery barely bothered to jump out of his seat anymore.
“Everybody's confidence right now is high,” Crabbe said. “That's what you need if you want to make a run in the Pac-12 Conference. That's what you need if you want to make a run in the NCAA tournament.”
Even afterward, when he'd so often use the opportunity to lament his team's slow start, the coach couldn't refute the final result.
The Utes were 0 of 9 with five turnovers during the drought. And going back to a horrendous second half in a 60-50 loss at Colorado last Thursday, Utah is 25 of 84 from the floor in its last 60 minutes. More than anything, Cal is winning — and at just the right time. “It's not how you draw it up, necessarily,” Montgomery said. “But the fact we've come together, not getting down on each other, at the end of the day, as long as we get in the (win) column, that's all that matters.”
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