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Basketball: Utah game is chance for Bears to try climbing into top four in Pac-12 standings

* 8 p.m. Wednesday at Haas Pavilion (ESPNU)

The race has tightened.

Oregon’s 85-78 win over Arizona State on Wednesday night — the Ducks’ sixth straight victory — leaves seven teams within a game-and-a-half of each other in the middle of the Pac-12 standings.

Here’s the current logjam from third through ninth place: Arizona State 10-7, Colorado 9-7, Stanford 9-7, Cal 9-7, Oregon 9-8, Utah 8-8, Washington 8-8.

There is a lot at stake this week, including NCAA tournament prospects. But the more immediate issue is the seven-way battle for the final two top-four finishes in the conference standings, the reward for which is a first-round bye in the Pac-12 tournament.

Arizona has clinched the title at 14-2 and UCLA is second at 11-5.

After that, mayhem.

There are too many mathematical possibilities to cover them all, but here’s what the Bears’ game Wednesday night against Utah means to the Bears:

– A win and Cal sits in a tie for third place at 10-7 with ASU and the winner of Wednesday night’s game between Colorado and Stanford.

– A loss and the Bears slide into a four-way tie for fifth place with Utah, Oregon and the loser of the Colorado-Stanford game.

Cal enters the final weekend of the regular season reeling after a pair of decisive road losses to Arizona and Arizona State. The Bears have lost three of their past four games, and none of them were close.

Asked to assess his team’s confidence level, coach Mike Montgomery conceded, “Probably not great, probably struggling a little bit. It’s hard to lose.

“Try as they might, they need some feel good. They need to have some success. Need to have a shot go down, need to have a play go their way.

“We knew going into this stretch of games, you’re going to have a hard time winning at Arizona, Arizona State. It’s been a stretch of games that a lot of people in our position are not going to win. And we didn’t. So it’s not anything that’s different from anybody else.

“We can still finish third. It’s up to us to see if we can make it happen.”

*****

The Bears haven’t faced Utah since last year’s Pac-12 tournament quarterfinal, when they lost 79-69 in overtime. By all indications, the Utes (19-9) are better this season.

Back is forward Jordan Loveridge, who had 20 points in that meeting last March as a freshman. But the difference-maker for Utah is junior wing Delon Wright, a native of Los Angeles and transfer from City College of San Francisco.

At 6-foot-5, the younger brother of Dorell Wright of the Portland Trail Blazers averages 16.4 points, 6.8 rebounds, 5.3 assists, 2.6 steals and 1.4 blocks.

“He’s a stat stuffer — does everything,” said Cal senior point guard Justin Cobbs, who grew up playing in the same AAU system as Wright. “He’s doing great things for that team.”

Montgomery, in fact, called Wright one of “the top three kids in the conference in terms of his impact on games. He’s a very, very good player.

“If you want to knit-pick, he’s probably not a pure perimeter shooter, but he’s big, he defends, he’s smart, he really understands the game and he’s a good passer. He’s a potential triple-double guy at any time.”

*****

The Utes’ biggest shortcoming? They are 1-7 on the road this season, with an 18-point win at USC but single-digit losses at Arizona, ASU, Colorado, Washington and Washington State.

Jeff Faraudo

  • Steve Fischer

    “Asked to assess his team’s confidence level, coach Mike Montgomery
    conceded, “Probably not great, probably struggling a little bit. It’s hard to lose.”

    Who’s responsible? the team should be peaking!

  • Rollonubears

    Hard to lose? It’s what Cal teams do best!

  • Cre8tivguy

    I’m torn. I love Mike Montgomery as a coach and I love his compete honesty in interviews. Unfortunately, I think teams take on the persona of their coach, and if he doesn’t have confidence in his own team, who does? At this point in the season, I wish Montgomery would stop being so honest and lead his team by spouting out nothing but confidence and say things like: “I will ensure that we play tough nose basketball! We will not give up and I will NOT let this team lose their focus!” His role at this point should be to rally the troops and give the Braveheart speech! Instead, we get the honest truth: “I don’t know…who knows what’s gonna happen…” I don’t want to hear that passive junk this late in the season!

  • BlakeStreetBear

    Great point. Yes, they could use some Hunter Pence right about now…

  • 1brsfan

    I’m with you on this. It’s too late in the season for this attitude. He needs to do the “Crabbe shove” on Solo tonight. Light a fire under their @ss!

  • BlakeStreetBear

    If the Bears can somehow finish 3rd at 11-7, win a game in the conf. tourney and get a 10 or 11 seed in the NCAAs then I will be very happy with this squad’s cumulative performance. A Monty coached Cal squad will have over-performed yet again.

    OTOH, if they fail to get into the NCAAs and lose 2-3 more games before the NIT then this team will have under-performed on a pretty large scale.

    My overall perception of Monty’s time at Cal has been overwhelmingly positive, but if this season implodes, especially after the 5-0 start, then this will have to rank as Monty’s worst season as a coach since his days with the W’s.

    Interesting how it all comes down to two home games to end the season. This is how it should be and we should all be feeling confident that this team will get the job done. But we’ve all seen how things are trending for this squad and it hasn’t been pretty for a while. Let’s hope the spark returns, that’s on you Mr. Solomon, and this team turns it around just in time. There is still time left for this team to do some fun things, or some brutal things. All we can do is hope for the former and make some noise tonight and Saturday at Haas.

    Go Bears!

  • Steve Fischer

    Outperformed? He’s been coach for years now and 11-7 after having been blown out in three of the last 4 games makes you happy – you have a low threshold for satisfaction.

    Why did you bother to go to Cal when there were so many colleges in the back of Parade Magazine?

  • 1brsfan

    It seems that the last few years it has come down to the last weekend and we have not risen up to the challenge. By my count we had 2-3 years where one win down the stretch gets us at least a share of the P12 crown and we flopped. That in itself worries me because coaching has something to do with that.

    It’s also crazy how if ASU doesn’t hit that 3 in regulation we win that game and we’re sitting all alone in 3rd feeling pretty comfortable about our chances to make the NCAA’s.

  • BlakeStreetBear

    Dude, we were picked to finish 5th or 6th by most journalists. So I think a 3rd place finish is better than expected and yes, it will make me happy.

    What would make you happy?

    Why did I bother to go to Cal? Is that a serious question? What does Parade magazine have to do with anything!? Relax.

  • 1brsfan

    I have been saying that for the last couple of weeks… we’re about where most expected based on our talent and youth. If we do end up in 3rd or 4th it is better than predicted and I too would be happy to be rooting for them in the tourney. I was never expecting a conference title and all I want is for them to be in the big dance… realistic expectations.

  • Steve Fischer

    The problem is you’ll greeted Montgomery like he was the next messiah. I listened to a few years of -well he inherited Braun’s players etc. So really picked for 5th or 6th in a conference with few good teams – is that the best we could hope for? The Parade analogy was about having such low expectations.

  • BlakeStreetBear

    No, the best I can hope for are undefeated seasons and and NCAA championships every year.

    But what I can realistically hope for year after year is finishing in the top 3rd of the conference and making the NCAA tourney, something Monty has failed to do exactly once in 5 tries. If he fails this year, which has not happened yet, then I will be unhappy with his performance, just like you obviously are Steve. Until then, I am gonna hope for the best and not let a young team’s performance on the court affect my days and nights. But that’s just how I roll…

    2014 – ?
    2013 – 2nd
    2012 – 2nd
    2011 – 4th
    2010 – 1st
    2009 – 3rd

    Braun 2008 – 9th!