SALT LAKE CITY — Utah’s bid for the fourth seed in next week’s Pac-12 tournament is alive and well.
After Thursday’s late-night 74-44 win over California in the Huntsman Center, the Utes need just two more things to happen in order to secure a first-round bye in Las Vegas. They have to defeat Stanford on Saturday, plus have Colorado knock off Cal in Boulder.
"We've always tried to take pride in playing good basketball at the right time," said Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak.
It didn’t take long for the Utes to put the Golden Bears in hibernation. They turned the ball over only three times and held Cal to 30 percent shooting while building a 42-22 halftime lead.
Lorenzo Bonam paced the effort with 11 points, seven rebounds and two steals over the pivotal stretch. Sedrick Barefield had eight points at the break.
Utah outscored Cal 40-14 during a decisive run that erased a 4-2 deficit. The 24-point margin (42-18) was the biggest lead the Utes had in the half. A 3-pointer by Parker Van Dyke capped it off with 1:16 left.
The Utes extended their lead to 32 points in the second half and never allowed the Bears to draw any closer than 19.
By game’s end, Utah had four players score in double figures. Barefield topped the team with 14 points. Kyle Kuzma and David Collette wound up with 12 apiece, while Bonam finished with 11.
Grant Mullins had points 11 for Cal and was its only player to reach double-digits. The Bears (19-10, 10-7) shot a season-low 23.5 percent (12 of 51) from the field against Utah's man-to-man defense.
"Guys locked in and took a lot of pride in defending," Krystkowiak said.
The blowout was a stark contrast from Cal’s 77-75 double-overtime victory over Utah in Berkeley on Feb. 2 and a tight contest the teams played in last year’s Pac-12 tournament semifinals. The Utes won that contest 82-78.
Cal and Utah are likely to earn the fourth and fifth seeds this time around and could meet again next Thursday in the tournament quarterfinals at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
However, that may depend on what happens Saturday. The fifth-place finisher will have to get past the No. 12 seed on Wednesday.
Utah, meanwhile, upped its record to 19-10 overall and 10-7 in Pac-12 play. The program also secured its third consecutive winning conference season.
The Utes went 8-28 over their first two campaigns in the league. Then came a 9-9 season in 2013-14. Back-to-back 13-5 marks preceded the current year.
“It’s not anything that’s overly important to me,” said Krystkowiak, who noted that such things are like little pats on the back since the situation isn’t as down-and-out as it was when the Utes joined the Pac-12 in 2011-12.
Krystkowiak also noted earlier in the week that the accomplishment of three straight winning seasons in the Pac-12 was “all out the window” in his mind because everyone was focused on Cal. Getting that win, he continued, and then moving on to Stanford and Senior Day.
There will be plenty of time to appreciate milestones later.
"I think those types of things you look back on once they’re in the barn and you can maybe talk about it over a campfire in the summer, or when you’re retired, or the season’s over,” Krystkowiak said. “But I’ve always kind of been of the mindset that about the time you start patting yourself on the back, thinking you’ve arrived, that’s about the time life jumps up and bites you right in the hindquarters. So we don’t do that a whole lot.”
Utah and Stanford tip off Saturday at 2 p.m. in the Huntsman Center. Cal and Colorado play at noon.