BERKELEY, Calif. — Missing its best post player and facing a defense coach Lindsay Gottlieb admittedly wasn't prepared for, California needed a lift.
The seventh-ranked Golden Bears found it in a four-guard lineup and a full-court press defense that created all sorts of havoc for Utah.
Reshanda Gray scored 19 points and sparked a big run in the second half before leaving with a left hamstring injury, Layshia Clarendon added 23 and California beat Utah 71-54 on Sunday.
"That's what we're about, let's find a way and get it done," Gottlieb said. "That was obviously the shift in the game when we upped the pressure, got a bunch of steals and made plays the way we like to."
Afure Jemerigbe scored 10 points while guard Eliza Pierre had five points, four assists and eight rebounds while playing the post position at the top of Cal's smothering press in the second half.
That helped the Bears to their seventh consecutive win over the Utes and assures Cal (17-2, 7-1 Pac-12) of keeping at least a share of first place in the conference.
"We were fighting for something. We were fighting for our season," Pierre said.
The Bears had trouble getting anything going against Utah's triangle-and-two defense until Gray scored 11 points as part of a 17-4 run midway through the second half.
Gray, who also had eight rebounds, sat out the final 4:22 with an ice bag on her leg after straining her left hamstring.
Cal was already without forward Gennifer Brandon, who injured her right foot in Friday's win over No. 20 Colorado. Guard Brittany Boyd also came up limping on the same play that Gray strained her hamstring on.
It didn't matter.
Utah committed 21 turnovers, including six in seven possessions after Cal made the defensive switch and went to the full-court press.
"That's normally a strength of our team," Utes coach Anthony Levrets said. "We were tired ... and when you're tired like that sometimes that can overwhelm you, and it did tonight."
Michelle Plouffe scored 19 points and Paige Crozon added 13 for Utah (10-9, 1-7).
The Utes played without second-leading scorer Taryn Wicijowski who injured her right knee while attempting a layup in the first half of Friday's loss to Stanford. She's scheduled to undergo an MRI in Salt Lake City on Monday.
Brandon's absence was even more noticeable.
Cal struggled getting the ball inside against Utah's compact defense and was forced to settle for mid-range shots until Gray took over with 13 minutes left.
She had 11 points during the big run by the Bears in the second half then later scored on a layup with 6:23 remaining to put Cal up 60-48. Gray then limped off the court less than 2 minutes later.Comment on this story
The Utes, who haven't defeated the Bears since 1988, stayed close in the first half despite another strong game from Clarendon.
Clarendon had four points during a 13-3 run midway through the first half then later made a 3-pointer that gave Cal a 32-23 lead with 1:03 left. That put Clarendon over 1,500 points for her career.
Crozon cut the gap to 32-28 at halftime with two free throws and a 3-pointer just before the buzzer. Utah's freshman guard didn't miss in the first half, making all four shots from the floor — including 3-for-3 on 3s — and had 13 points before the break.
The win leaves Gottlieb two shy of 100 for her career.