TIPOFF: 6 p.m. Thursday at Huntsman Center, Salt Lake City, Utah. TV: None. Radio: 910-AM.
Don’t expect the Golden Bears to hiccup on Thursday night at Utah. They know what’s at stake and understand the rematch with the Utes in Salt Lake City won’t necessarily be the walk-over they enjoyed in their 81-45 victory at Berkeley.
“Coach Montgomery’s not going to let us overlook anybody — it’s such a close race,” freshman David Kravish said. “Harper and Jorge aren’t going to let us overlook it.”
For seniors Harper Kamp and Jorge Gutierrez, this is a chance to inch closer to a second conference title in three seasons. Cal and Washington are tied for the Pac-12 lead at 12-3, each with three road games remaining.
Although there is no evidence of it in the win columnm, the Utes appear to be making some progress since Cal last time the Bears faced them.
“They played Colorado pretty tough at their place. That shows they’re playing a little better,” point guard Justin Cobbs said of the Utes’ 55-48 loss to Colorado. “All these games are must-win. If we want to win that championship, we can’t look past anything.”
Mike Montgomery seems comfortable his team will be ready.
“They know what their job is. For us, our margin of error is not appreciable,” he said. “We’ve got to have certain people perform, we’ve got to play good defense, or we’re going to have a tough time.”
ABOUT THE UTES: Utah has lost seven games in a row and 11 of 12. The Utes have scored fewer than 60 points in 16 of their 26 games, fewer than 50 in eight games. Cal, by comparison, has been held under 60 three times, and the Bears won two of those games. But the Utes are better than they were Jan. 14 when they visited Cal. They’ve dropped their past three games — including at Arizona and at home vs. Colorado — by an average margin of just seven points.
“I think Larry’s done a good job,” Montgomery said of Utah first-year coach Larry Krystkowiak, his former player at Montana decades ago. “They just had to many issues early on, it was just one thing after another. They have a lineup now, the kids know this is it, this is what we have. They’re playing better together, I’m sure they’re having more fun together.”
Senior Josh “Jiggy” Watkins, the team’s leading scorer, has been dismissed from the team since the first Cal game. He “was a good player. But everything kind of started and finished with him, so a lot of the guys were standing around and you didn’t really know what they could do,” Montgomery said. “And now these other kids are having to play and they’re putting up some numbers. They’re a better team than they were.”
Even so, the Utes rank near or at the bottom of most statistical categories in the Pac-12, including field-goal and 3-point percentages on both offense and defense. They turn the ball over too much and don’t rebound well.
So, how will they try to compete? “They’re a physical team,” Cobbs said. “They try to slow the game down a little bit, run the clock a little bit.”
COACH K ON MONTY: Krystkowiak, whose years playing for Montgomery at Montana propelled him to a successful NBA career, said Monty was the biggest influence on his basketball career.
“He was very much of a perfectionist and drove me and drove our team really hard and instilled a lot of influence on me in terms of work ethic and doing things the right way,” Krystkowiak said. “I would probably place Mike at the top of the list in terms of people that I looked up to basketball-wise that really, really had a huge impact on me and my personal development.”
Asked what it was like to coach against him last month, Krystkowiak joked, “I wouldn’t call that coaching against him — they thumped us pretty good. We just weren’t ready to play in that ballgame.
“I’d like to believe we’ve come a long way since then. The game itself was kind of a blur. Hopefully we’ll be able to represent our university a little bit better this go around.”
THE SERIES: Cal leads 10-8 and has won the past two meetings. The Bears beat Utah 81-45 in Berkeley on Jan. 14. Cal had five players score in double figures, led by Jorge Gutierrez with 15 and Justin Cobbs with 14 and 11 assists.
MISCELLANY: Mike Montgomery has won more games (86) already in his fourth season as coach at Cal than he did in his first four seasons at Stanford (80) or Montana (67). He also has won more games in his first four years than any previous Cal coach, exceeding the totals by Ben Braun (75), Lou Campanelli (68) and Pete Newell (66) . . . With 70 3-point baskets, Allen Crabbe has the third-most in a single season for Cal, behind only the totals of 92 and 82 by Jerome Randle in 2010 and ’09, respectively. Crabbe needs just four more 3-pointers to move onto the Bears’ career top-10 list.
Cal (22-6, 12-3 Pac-12)
|SF Allen Crabbe||6-6||So.||15.6||5.9|
|PF Harper Kamp||6-8||Sr.||10.8||5.1|
|PF David Kravish||6-9||Fr.||6.5||5.7|
|SG Jorge Gutierrez||6-3||Sr.||13.6||5.3|
|PG Justin Cobbs||6-2||So.||13.2||5.0*|
|G Brandon Smith||5-11||Jr.||3.3||2.6*|
|C Robert Thurman||6-10||Jr.||3.8||1.8|
|F Bak Bak||6-8||Jr.||2.0||1.4|
Utah (5-21, 2-12 Pac-12)
|C Jason Washburn||7-0||Jr.||10.6||6.3|
|SF Dijon Farr||6-6||Jr.||6.3||4.7|
|SG Cedric Martin||6-4||Jr.||7.7||3.1|
|SG Chris Hines||6-1||Jr.||9.1||2.1|
|PG Kareem Storey||6-0||Fr.||4.9||3.2*|
|F Javon Dawson||6-7||So.||3.2||2.2|
|G Antony Odunsi||6-3||Fr.||3.0||1.3|
|G Kyle Perkins||6-4||Jr.||0.9||0.6|