SALT LAKE CITY — Could California's Allen Crabbe be next? On Thursday, the Pac-12's leading overall scorer (19.8 ppg) faces a Utah defense coming off back-to-back first-half shutdowns of two of the conference's other top point producers.
Washington State's Brock Motum and Washington's C.J. Wilcox, who average 19.1 points apiece and rank second overall behind Crabbe, were both held scoreless by the Utes in opening halves last week.
"You can't do it without some defensive-minded guys," said Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak, who noted that someone has to step to the plate when the challenge is presented.
Against Motum, Krytskowiak said it all began with senior Cedric Martin. In the Washington game, Krystkowiak said that Glen Dean did a great job of staying connected with Wilcox.
"The plan sounds good on paper, but if a player is not willing to do it, it's all for naught," Krytskowiak continued. "And I think a lot of credit goes to those guys for taking the challenge."
While it remains to be seen exactly how the Utes defend Crabbe, the 6-foot-6 junior guard has already been defended well. After scoring 48 points and making 19-of-33 shots over conference-opening games against UCLA and USC, Crabbe managed just 37 points on 12-of-32 shooting in Cal's next three outings (Washington, Washington State and Stanford).
Crabbe finished with nine points against the Huskies and 14 against both the Cougars and Cardinal. He had just two points at halftime of the latter, a 69-59 loss last Saturday.
"Just like every other team, they're gonna find ways to get me frustrated," Crabbe told reporters after the game. "It's nothing new. They did a great job in the first half."
Both Motum and Wilcox finished with 14 points (all in the second half) against the Utes.
BANGED UP BEARS: Cal has lost four of its past six games and is off to a disappointing 10-7 (2-3 in Pac-12 play) start. The Bears have been a bit shorthanded with three players sidelined as of late. Senior guard Brandon Smith has missed six games with a concussion, while sophomore guard Ricky Kreklow is out indefinitely with a foot injury. Sophomore forward Christian Brehrens will miss the remainder of the season with a knee injury.
"We can't make excuses," Cal coach Mike Montgomery said following last Saturday's loss to Stanford, adding that his team still has the personnel to succeed.
The Bears were picked to finish third in the Pac-12's preseason media poll, joining favorites Arizona and UCLA in receiving first-place votes.
EXTRA STUFF: Cal leads the all-time series 10-8, including a 60-46 win in the Huntsman Center last February. … Freshman forward Jordan Loveridge now tops the Utes with 12.8 points and 7.3 rebounds per game. … Senior center Jason Washburn is closing in on becoming the 35th player in team history to score 1,000 points in his career. He has 878 with a minimum of 13 games left to play.
Utes on the air
California (10-7, 2-3)
at Utah (9-9, 1-5)
Huntsman Center Thursday, 6:30 p.m.
TV: Pac-12 networks
Radio: ESPN 700 AM