In the most important game they have played this season to date, California produced their worst performance. With the opportunity to secure a bye in the first round of the Pac-12 Tournament in Las Vegas next week and solidify their post-season credentials, the Bears were blown out by Utah 74-44 in Salt Lake City in front of a crowd of 12,876.
Losing for the fourth time in the last five games, Cal fell to 10-7 in the league, and 19-10 overall. They are now tied for fourth with Utah (19-10, 10-7), and will have to beat Colorado on Saturday in Boulder to clinch the fourth seed and the bye.
"We didn't do a great job out of the gate, with turnovers, the energy level, and the intensity on defense," said Cuonzo Martin after the game. "I just thought we were a step slow and it showed."
Cal led the game for just 26 seconds, and that was in the first two minutes. Grant Mullins was the high man for the Bears with 11 points. Ivan Rabb did not have a field goal (0 for 3) and finished with 8 points and 8 boards. Cal shot 12 for 52 for the game (23%), and were 2 of 18 from three point territory.
Cal's three key offensive players, Rabb, Jabari Bird and Charlie Moore combined to score 16 points on 3 of 19 shooting.
Four Utes hit double figures in a balanced attack, led by Sedrick Barefield's 14 points off the bench. Kyle Kuzma displayed his considerable talents with 12 points, 4 rebounds and 4 assists.
The Utes shredded Cal's usually strong defense for 51% from the field (27 of 53). Utah had 44 points in the paint, to just 12 for Cal. The Utes' advantage in fast break points was 16-0.
Speaking of Utah's inside dominance, Martin said, "They won the battle and they won the war."
ESPN Bracketologist Joe Lunardi had Cal in the last four teams in the NCAA field before this disaster. The Bears did not provide any evidence on this night that they belong in the field for March Madness.
This game was decided before the intermission. In the first half, the Bears shot 6 of 20, 1 of 7 from three, turned it over 8 times, and were outscored 24-8 in the paint. Utah played a lot of zone in the first meeting in Berkeley, but Thursday night Cal had no answers for the Utes' man to man defense.
A trey from the left wing by Mullins off inside-outside action made it 10-9 Utah at the 12:17 mark. From that point, the home team went on a 14-2 run, as the Bears went five minutes without a bucket. Bird ended the drought with an old-fashioned three- point play.
Martin went with the 2-3 zone to try and slow down the Utes for most of the final five and a half minutes, but the results were mixed. The Bears continued to give up the paint to the more aggressive Utes.
Bird's basket did not get the Cal offense going. They endured another long field goal drought, stretching to more than six minutes. By the time the buzzer sounded to end the first half, Utah had built a 42-22 lead.
The second half was more of the same. Cal missed their first nine shots after the intermission, and the Utes lead expanded to 32 with just under five minutes to play.
Martin emptied the bench early, saving his starters for Saturday afternoon against Colorado.
"We've got to go win the game in Colorado, it's really simple," said Martin "We played poorly, you have to give Utah a lot of credit."
The final regular season game will tip off at noon Mountain Time, 11 a.m. Pacific Time.