TIPOFF: 6:05 p.m. Thursday at Haas Pavilion. TV/Radio: ESPNU/910-AM.
Check out what happened Wednesday night in State College, Pa., and you’ll understand why playing Utah at home has Cal coach Mike Montgomery nervous.
Penn State, which was winless in the Big Ten, knocked off No. 4 Michigan 64-58, demonstrating once again that virtually anything is possible this season in college basketball.
This is no time for the Bears to lose focus against a seemingly overmatched opponent.
Winners of five in a row and seven of their past eight, the Bears are just one game out of first place in the Pac-12. They have three games left, all of them at home, and there is every reason to believe they can steal a piece of the title.
They even got some help Wednesday night in the form of USC’s 89-78 win over Arizona, knocking the Wildcats out of a tie for first place,
If this all has a familiar feeling, it should.
Cal entered the final three games a year ago, against these same three teams — Utah, Colorado and Stanford — with a chance to win the Pac-12 title. The Bears lost two of three and fell short.
“We don’t want to repeat last year,” senior Robert Thurman said. “After last season we kind of realized we peaked too early. Now I think we’re peaking at the right time. We just need to keep that momentum. I think we’re going to come out and play really hard.”
But after road wins by two points at Oregon and one point at Oregon State, Montgomery remains unsure if he can count on that level of sustained effort from one game to the next.
“No, I’m not comfortable at all. I’m not comfortable with anything,” he said. “It’s been a hard group, the whole year, getting them to focus.
“Obviously a huge win at Oregon, and then I didn’t think we had their full attention Saturday at Oregon State. We started off well, but we missed a lot of shots point-blank. We’re never out of the woods.”
THE STANDINGS: Here’s how things stand entering play Thursday — Oregon 11-4, UCLA 11-4, Arizona 11-5, Cal 10-5, Colorado 9-6, ASU 9-7, USC 8-7, Washington 7-8, Stanford 7-9, Utah 3-11, Oregon St. 3-12, Washington St. 3-13.
ABOUT THE UTES: Utah has lost four of its past five games, is just 2-8 on the road this season and resides in 10th place in the Pac-12 standings. Yet the 10 of the Utes’ defeats have been by margins of seven points or fewer, including a four-point loss to Arizona two weeks ago. “Utah is scary because they play everybody tough. They’re very good defensively,” Montgomery said. The Utes start two freshmen and two more are among their top eight scorers. … The Utes lead the Pac-12 in scoring defense (62.2 ppg) and field-goal defense (.390). They also lead the conference in free throw accuracy at .751.
THE SERIES: Cal leads 11-8. The Bears won 62-57 in Salt Lake City last month and have won four in a row. Cal is 5-2 in Berkeley against the Utes.
ETC: With its recent wins over Oregon (twice), Arizona and UCLA, Cal has improved to 4-5 in games vs. teams in the top 50 of the RPI computer. The Bears’ average margin of victory in their past seven wins (over eight games) is 4.8 points, with four of the wins by four points or fewer. … Despite scoring a season-low six points in the Bears’ win at Oregon State, Allen Crabbe moved into 10th place on Cal’s career scoring list with 1,440 points. Next up is Brian Hendrick (1990-93) at 1,556. … Cal is 27-11 in the month of February in five seasons under Montgomery. … Not sure we should read anything into this, but when asked about long-injured G Ricky Kreklow (foot), Montgomery said, “He’s pushing a little bit right now. We’ll see.”
WHAT’S NEXT: Cal plays Colorado on Saturday at Haas Pavilion. Tipoff is 2 p.m.
Cal (18-9, 10-5 Pac-12)
|SG Allen Crabbe||6-6||Jr.||19.0||5.8|
|PF Richard Solomon||6-10||Jr.||8.6||6.7|
|PF David Kravish||6-9||So.||8.0||6.9|
|PG Justin Cobbs||6-2||Jr.||14.9||4.6*|
|SG Tyrone Wallace||6-3||Fr.||7.1||4.4|
|G Brandon Smith||5-11||Sr.||2.8||2.1*|
|C Robert Thurman||6-10||Sr.||4.9||3.7|
|F Bak Bak||6-9||Sr.||1.8||1.1|
Utah (11-15, 3-11 Pac-12)
|C Jason Washburn||6-10||Sr.||11.7||6.7|
|F Jordan Loveridge||6-6||Fr.||11.7||6.6|
|SG Cedric Martin||6-4||Sr.||4.3||2.4|
|SG Brandon Taylor||5-10||Fr.||6.0||1.8*|
|PG Jarred DuBois||6-3||Sr.||11.8||3.1*|
|G Glen Dean||5-10||Jr.||6.0||2.4|
|F Jeremy Olsen||6-10||Fr.||3.4||2.4|
|F Dakarai Tucker||6-5||Fr.||2.9||1.0|