Cal’s workmanlike 60-46 win over Utah gives the Bears (23-6, 13-3) a half-game lead on idle Washington atop the Pac-12 standings.
“We have to grind,” Mike Montgomery said afterward. “We have to defend. We have to match other people’s physicality if we can. That’s just the way we have to play.”
Especially when the ball isn’t going down. Cal shot just 40.4 percent, made 2 of 11 from the 3-point line and got only three points from leading scorer Allen Crabbe, who was 0 for 6 from the field.
Cal beat Utah (5-22, 2-13) by 36 points in Berkeley last month, but the Utes have improved and figured out how they want to play. Which is, they want to slow it down, ugly it up. And on those counts, they were successful against the Bears.
But they turned the ball over 17 times, shot just 34.8 percent and could not slow down senior Harper Kamp, who had 17 points, seven rebounds and five assists.
Cal has won six straight conference games, equaling a stretch it enjoyed two seasons ago while capturing its first league title in 50 years. A win Sunday at Colorado would give the Bears a seven-game conference streak for the first time since 2002-03.
Colorado, meanwhile, played probably its worst game of the season, falling 74-50 to Stanford. The Buffaloes, picked 10th in the league, were hoping a win over Cal could keep alive their chances of winning the Pac-12 title.
Now they are two games behind Cal and Washington in the loss column with just three to play.
The Buffaloes, who had lost just once in 14 previous home games, will play better Sunday. Cal will need to, also.