TIPOFF: 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Haas Pavilion. TV: CSNCA. Radio: 910-AM.
A trap game for the Bears?
First of all, Utah’s competitive 68-65 loss at Stanford on Thursday — in which the Utes led by four points with 15 minutes left — allows coach Mike Montgomery to get his team’s attention.
Then there is the simple fact that Cal is the Pac-12′s best home team this season, and the Utes the league’s worst on the road. The Bears will have to play better offensively than they did in a 57-50 win against Colorado, but they will.
The subplot here is the connection between Montgomery and Utah first-year coach Larry Krystkowiak.
Krystkowiak played the low post for Montgomery at Montana, averaging a double-double each of his final three seasons, including 22.2 points and 11.4 rebounds as a senior in 1985-86.
“A long, long time ago, his senior year, he ended up getting drafted in the NBA and I got the Stanford job,” Montgomery recalled this week. “We shook hands and said, `That kind of worked out for both of us, didn’t it?’ He’s a really good guy.”
Krystkowiak spent his rookie season in the NBA playing for the San Antonio Spurs, where his teammates included rookie guard Johnny Dawkins, fresh out of Duke and Krystkowiak’s coaching adversary two nights ago at Stanford.
Krystkowiak played nine NBA seasons, but his best was in 1988-89 when he averaged 12.7 points and 7.6 rebounds for the Milwaukee Bucks. That same year, Montgomery coached Stanford to the NCAA tournament for the first of 12 times.
Montgomery said early in the week he hadn’t seen enough of Utah to provide much of an evaluation. But he remembers how Krystkowiak attacked the game.
“He played like his life depended on it,” Montgomery said. “He was very, very tough — a tremendous competitor. He was a load inside, trust me.”
ABOUT THE UTES: Clearly the most helpless team in the Pac-12 for the first month of so of the season, Utah has made strides recently. The Utes are better defensively and more competitive. They surprised Washington State, winning 62-60 in overtime at home, just six days after losing by 44 points to Colorado. Since then, they lost 57-53 to Washington, then 68-65 at Stanford. Thursday’s performance left Krystkowiak encouraged.
“The focus for us has been battling and competing on the road, we haven’t done that all year,” said Krystkowiak, whose team lost its first four road games by an average of 30 points. “There have been stretches in games where we played with a road mentality. But I thought our guys couldn’t have played any harder. It came down to some little things, missed blockouts on free throws, and any time you’re 1-of-9 at the free throw line . . .
“It was encouraging that we did this on the road. Beyond that it’s still pretty rough because we were in a position to win so it always hurts. I told our guys a long time ago, if we play hard I don’t care if we win lose or draw, as long as we don’t cheat the game. I think they are starting to grasp that concept a little bit.”
While the Utes have climbed to fifth defensively in conference-only games, allowing just 64.5 ppg, they remain a poor offensive club. They are averaging only 52.8 points the past five games. They are shooting just 52 percent from the FT line in Pac-12 play, 39.6 percent from the field, 25.6 percent from the 3-point arc. Plus, they rank last in the league in rebound margin.
THE SERIES: Cal leads 9-8. The Bears won the most recent meeting, a 72-69 decision at Salt Lake City on Dec. 10, 2008. Harper Kamp scored 12 points off the bench in the win and Jorge Gutierrez, then a freshman, played 17 scoreless minutes. The only Utah player still active is Carlon Brown, who scored 15 points but is now playing for Colorado.
MISCELLANY: Cal was the top-rated Pac-12 team according to the RealTimeRPI.com rankings on Friday, sitting at No. 33. No other conference school was in the top 50. Utah was No. 266 . . . Cal is 12-0 at Haas Pavilion this season . . . Thursday’s win over Colorado was the Bears’ first all season after trailing at halftime.
Cal (14-4, 4-1 Pac-12)
|SF Allen Crabbe||6-6||So.||16.1||6.0|
|PF Harper Kamp||6-8||Sr.||9.1||5.1|
|PF David Kravish||6-9||Fr.||5.9||5.8|
|SG Jorge Gutierrez||6-3||Sr.||14.3||5.1|
|PG Justin Cobbs||6-2||So.||12.8||4.6*|
|G Brandon Smith||5-11||Jr.||4.1||3.2*|
|F Richard Solomon||6-10||So.||6.3||6.3|
|C Robert Thurman||6-10||Jr.||2.4||1.3|
Utah (4-12, 1-3 Pac-12)
|C Jason Washburn||7-0||Jr.||10.6||6.6|
|SF Dijon Farr||6-6||Jr.||6.6||4.0|
|SG Chris Hines||6-1||Jr.||7.9||1.9|
|SG Cedric Martin||6-4||Jr.||6.6||2.9|
|PG Josh Watkins||6-0||Sr.||15.7||4.9*|
|G Kareem Storey||6-0||Fr.||3.6||1.6|
|G Anthony Odunsi||6-3||Fr.||3.3||1.4|
|F Javon Dawson||6-7||So.||2.9||2.8|