BERKELEY, Calif. After losing to a pair of Pac-10 teams earlier in the season, the Utah basketball team came through with a victory on the third try Saturday afternoon thanks to Shaun Green's unlikely basket with 1.4 seconds left.
Green's falling-down-before-he-flung-it-up-there prayer shot from six feet out gave the Utes a thrilling 67-65 victory over Cal at Haas Pavilion Saturday afternoon and pushed the Utes' record to 7-3. Cal fell to 7-2.
"Those were two games we had chances to win and didn't make enough plays," said Ute coach Jim Boylen, referring to earlier losses to Washington and Oregon. "Today we hung in there against what I think is the best team we've played all year (ranked No. 26 in RPI), a very well-coached team that is very good at home."
The Utes led nearly the whole way in this one, by as many as 16 points only to see the Bears rally. But Utah found a way to win in the end, even if it wasn't pretty.
"I stumbled a little bit, but I got the ball up and it went in," said Green of his game-winner. "Coach always says it's about making plays at the end. It's not going to be perfect. I just drove and was trying to draw some contact and throw the ball up at the hoop and it just happened to go in for me."
There were just under six seconds left when Green took a high inbounds pass from Lawrence Borha in front of the Utah bench outside the 3-point line. He immediately started toward the basket, getting past Ryan Anderson as he staggered, before then flipping up a shot over Cal's 6-foot-11 center DeVon Hardin.
"At the end you just got to make a play," said Boylen. "It's not always perfect where you draw it up and it works. Big players make a play. Shaun Green made a big play."
Cal coach Ben Braun preferred not to comment on the winning play, but the two Cal defenders on the play talked about it.
"He kind of threw up a prayer," said Anderson. "But lucky stuff like that happens in basketball. That's why it's such a fun game to watch."
"He was coming towards me and I was going to block it but I didn't want to foul," said Hardin. "He kind of had his head down and threw something up. I turned around to get the rebound and it went in. There's not much you can say about that."
Johnnie Bryant, playing near his hometown of Oakland in front of many friends and family, led the Ute scoring with 14 points, while Luke Nevill had 12, Carlon Brown added 11 and Green chipped in 10.
Cal was led by Anderson and Patrick Christopher with 19 apiece and Hardin with 13.
After grabbing the lead at 12-9 on a Bryant 3-pointer, the Utes kept the lead the rest of the half as they led by as much as 16 at 33-17 on another Bryant three. However, the Bears fought back and closed the gap to nine at 37-28 on Christopher's 3-pointer just before halftime.
The Utes kept a double-digit lead until the mid-point of the second half when the Bears rallied. A 10-2 run brought the Bears within one at 53-52 before Bryant hit back-to-back threes to push the lead back to seven.
Again the Bears came back and actually took the lead at 63-62 on a 3-pointer by Christopher with 3:49 left. Then Nevill put the Utes back on top with an inside basket.
The Utes got a big play from Borha when he made a steal and was fouled going to the basket with 1:35 left. His two free throws gave Utah a three-point lead, but Hardin sank two free throws and Nikola Knezevic made one of two to tie the score with 37 seconds left.
"Lawrence Borha made a huge play on the steal and the foul and two free throws," said Boylen. "Those were two huge plays that you've got to make at end of the game. It's not how you script it."
Cal had a foul to give and Christopher fouled with 5.9 seconds left, setting up the final sequence.After the game, the Utes went in different directions and will meet up again Christmas night for practice prior to a game against Idaho State on Thursday.