Utah Utes basketball: Utes can't piggyback on Smith's Bay Area magic
BERKELEY, Calif. — Over here in the Bay Area, the focus for most sports fans Saturday was on the San Francisco 49ers, who moved to the NFC championship game with a thrilling victory behind former Utah quarterback Alex Smith.
However, Smith's magic didn't carry over to the Utah basketball team Saturday night at Haas Pavilion, where the Utes were crushed by Cal 81-45.
The loss was the Utes' fourth by 30 or more points this year and eighth by 20 or more as they dropped to 4-13 on the season and 1-4 in Pac-12 play. Meanwhile the Bears improved to 15-4 overall and 5-1 in league play, which puts them in a tie with Stanford for first place.
Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak said he didn't want to "make a big deal" of another big loss for his young team.
"This isn't one of those times where we need to make a big definition, the ship is sinking kind of thing," Krystkowiak said. "It is what it is — they are a markedly better basketball team than we are at this juncture and they played like it. We don't have much room for error."
The Ute coach did acknowledge that his team "didn't play with the same intensity" as it has in recent games and gave credit to Cal and his former coach Mike Montgomery.
"They are one of the top teams in the league, if not the top team," he said. "They defend, they've got size … in every facet of the game they outplayed us."
Ute guard Chris Hines agreed with his coach about the intensity, saying, "It was a lack of defensive intensity. We didn't come out as strong as we needed to, we got in a hole and couldn't get our heads up."
As it has been in so many games this year, a big difference was in how often the ball went in the hoop for each team.
While the Utes could only manage 34.7 percent from the field, the Bears burned the basket for 59.6 percent and made all eight of their free throws.
Josh Watkins led the Utes in scoring again with 15 points, but he could only sink 5 of 14 shots from the field and missed all three of his 3-point tries. He also turned the ball over five times, while getting just three assists.
Stanford coach Mike Montgomery said his team tried to key on Watkins since "he has the ball in his hands most of the time" and was the Utes' leading scorer.
"I thought we did a good job on Watkins particularly in the first half and that took the wind out of their sails," Montgomery said.
At one point in the first half, the Utes made just one point in a nine-and-a-half minute stretch, when the Bears outscored them 18-1.
About that, Montgomery said it was a combination of his team's defense and Utah's lack of shooting ability.
"Utah has had trouble shooting the ball this year — that's been their Achilles heel and that showed tonight," he said.
In the first half, the Utes shot just 26 percent from the field when they fell behind 32-15, their second-lowest first-half output this season. Only the 11-point first half at Colorado was worse.
The Utes made a couple of quick baskets to start the second half and pulled within 14 at 34-20, but that was as close as they got the rest of the night.
The Bears went on a 13-2 run to take a 45-22 lead with 14:25 left and the lead just kept growing despite Montgomery emptying his bench early. The lead got as high as 39 with 1:25 left, but the Utes avoided their second 40-point loss of the season.
Jorge Gutierrez bounced back from a 2-for-17 performance against Colorado Thursday night to lead Cal with 15 points on 7 of 9 from the field. Harper Kamp and Justin Cobbs each scored 14 points and Cobbs added 11 assists. Leading scorer Allen Crabbe chipped in 10 for the Bears.
Besides Watkins' 15 points, Jason Washburn had nine points and five rebounds, while Hines scored eight.
The Utes return home Sunday and will play a pair of home games this week against Arizona Thursday night and Arizona State Saturday afternoon.
GAME NOTES: The Utes wore their black uniforms, which they first wore against Washington State last week in the "blackout game". … The last time the two teams played at Haas Pavilion in 2007, the Utes pulled out a 67-65 victory on a last-second shot by Shaun Green. … Cal leads the overall series 10-8, including a 72-69 win in Salt Lake in 2008. … The Utes and Bears play again in Salt Lake on Feb. 23.
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