At times it seemed that neither team deserved to win, but Jabari Bird made the difference. The senior wing scored Cal's last seven points, and the Bears (16-6, 7-3) defeated Utah 77-75 in double overtime at Haas Pavilion on Thursday night. With the score tied at 75, Bird soared above the rim to slam home Charlie Moore's lob with 2.1 seconds on the clock.
Bird's winner came during a hectic final minute of the second overtime. With the score tied at 70, Bird banked in a short jumper to give Cal the lead, but Lorenzo Bonam tied it for Utah with a pair of free throws with 43.5 seconds to go. Bird nailed a 3-ball with 33 seconds remaining, but Bonam tied it again with a left corner trey with 21 seconds left.
Coach Cuonzo Martin elected not to take a time out, and Moore found Bird at the rim for the decisive bucket. "Coach told me and Ivan to get in the screen and roll and I got through the middle of the lane and I saw Bird do a hard cut," said Moore. "I know how athletic he is so I knew he was going to go up and get it and give us the win."
"Once I saw the lane open up and guys started to commit to him, I just cut back door and he made a great play and found me," said Bird. The crowd of 9,246 exploded when Bird slammed it home.
Bird finished with a career high 26 points, all but 5 of them coming after halftime. He had 10 of Cal's 15 points in the second extra session. Moore finished with 17 points and 7 assists, although he took 16 shots to get there. Almost lost in the dramatics, Ivan Rabb got his 11th double-double of the season with 12 points and 14 rebounds.
Kyle Kuzma led the Utes (15-7, 6-4) with 23 points and 14 boards. Bonam, the villain in Cal's lost to Utah in the Pac-12 Tournament last year, had 15 points.
Cal had a lot of difficulty getting the ball to Rabb against Utah's zone defense. Rabb was limited to 12 field goal attempts, and the Bears relied on a perimeter attack. Cal took 28 three-point shots, making just seven.
"I would imagine it was an exciting game to watch," said Martin. "Two teams that play hard, two teams that defend, two teams that rebound, two teams that compete."
Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak said, following the game, "The guys really responded with an unbelievable effort. It was a great college game and that's why were all kind of getting into it and everybody got their money's worth."
Cal was outrebounded 47-41, as the visitors grabbed 15 offensive rebounds. Martin felt that many of those came while Cal was in a zone defense to protect Rabb and the other bigs.
The Bears blocked nine shots, and recorded eight steals. They held Utah to 41.5% shooting for the game. The Utes has 19 turnovers. Utah's defense limited Cal to 40.3% from the field, and the Bears had 10 miscues.
Cal stormed out to an early 18-4 advantage with Utah throwing the ball all over the place. The visitors started the game shooting 2 for 10 with 7 turnovers. Moore got off to a great start, drilling a 3-ball, and then a strong drive to his left as Cal scored the first eight points of the game.
The Bears got sloppy, and Utah got back into the game. Two layups by Parker Van Dyke off Cal turnovers cut the margin to six (30-24), before Moore hit a jumper and then picked Bonam clean and drove in for a layup. Bonham scored in the final seconds to make it 34-26 at the half.
Utah came out strong after the break, and finally took the lead with just over six minutes left in regulation. They built a three-point lead, but failed to score in the final 3:21. Moore had a chance to win it in regulation when he went to the line for a one and one with three seconds to go. He made the first to earn the bonus, but missed the potential game winner.
A layup by Kuzma with seven seconds to go in the first overtime tied it up at 62, but Domingo's three pointer missed, forcing the second OT and setting things up for Bird's heroics.
Cal moves into a tie for third with UCLA in the Pac-12 standings. The Bears face Colorado on Sunday at 1:30 PM at Haas.