Cal Hangs On to Advance to Semifinals


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By Dan Lachman, Staff Writer
Posted Mar 9, 2017
If by BearInsider Staff or Contributor, this article is Copyright © 2017

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Charlie Moore drives for a bucket in Cal's win ove rUtah -photo by ISIPhotos
Las Vegas, NV - The California Golden Bears (21-11) have struggled to close out games this season, and that bad habit nearly cost them on Thursday afternoon in a quarterfinal game of the Pac-12 Tournament in Las Vegas. The Bears made a slew of mistakes down the stretch, but managed to hang on and defeat the Utah Utes 78-75 at the T-Mobile Arena. Cal moves on to face Oregon in the semifinals on Friday night.

Jabari Bird was the difference maker, scoring a game-high 26 points, 18 of them in the second half. Freshman point guard Charlie Moore played his best game since leaving the Arizona game on February 11th with an injury. Moore scored 21 points, which more than offset a few freshman errors he committed in the final minutes.

After losing by 30 last week in Salt Lake City, the Bears were seeking redemption. Bird said, "Up at their place, they really got into us. They brought the game to us, and we didn't respond. And today, we remembered that game. It was only a week ago, and we came prepared for battle and it showed."

"I don't think it's that we had a letdown as much as it is important to give credit to Cal," said Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak. "I know if we got our butts whooped by 30 a week ago, we'd probably have a little different edge to us."

On the defensive end, Kingsley Okoroh was a huge (literally) factor. The junior center scored four points, grabbed 10 rebounds, and had three second half blocked shots.

"I thought he did a tremendous job defensively," said Cuonzo Martin. "When they had their traditional bigs, I thought he did a great job protecting the rim."

Utah coach Krystkowiak added, "He does a nice job, you know, taking up space and rebounding and doing his thing."

Cal finished the game shooting 43.6% (24 of 55), but they were 14 of 28 after the intermission. They connected on 6 of 11 from three-point territory in the second 20 minutes.

The Bears dominated the glass, especially in the first half. The won the rebound battle 33-25, and their 12 offensive boards produced 17 second-chance points.

Most important, they had one of their better nights at the line, converting 22 of 27 (81.5%). The production at the line was key, as Utah had a 38-24 margin in points in the paint.

Cal led for most of the first half, which ended with the score tied at 30. The Bears played with far more energy than they had shown in Salt Lake City last week.

With just under nine minutes to play in the game, Bird stuck a 3-ball from the right wing off of a pin-down play to put Cal up 57-47. Utah responded with an old-fashioned three-point play to cut the lead to seven. After the media timeout, Cal benefited from a play that provided a hint that it might be their night.

With the shot clock running down, Moore tossed in a banked-in three pointer from straight on to restore Cal's 10-point margin. Utah went inside to David Collette twice to cut the lead to six, but Cal came up with an answer again.

Bird hit a trey, and after a pair from the line by Ivan Rabb the lead was 11 (65-54) with just over four minutes remaining. Utah's Sedrick Barefield nailed a trey from the left wing, but Moore drove in and used his left hand to finish for a 67-57 lead.

There were only three and a half minutes to play, and the Bears appeared safe. Free throws built the lead to 72-61 with 2:20 remaining. Cal then did their best to spoil their outstanding effort in the first 38 minutes.

A turnover by the usually solid Grant Mullins and a poor driving shot by Moore with just over a minute left enabled Utah to cut the Cal lead to 73-71 after a trey by Kyle Kuzma. Martin had a timeout in his pocket, but decided not to use it.

The Bears couldn't get the ball to Rabb, and Moore ended up taking a long three late in the shot clock. He missed, and Utah corralled the rebound. Moore fouled Barefield on a drive with :29.6 on the clock, but Barefield missed the first and made the second.

Cal got the ball to Bird. Utah didn't want to foul him, so Bird decided to go toward the basket. He drove into the lane, absorbed contact, and made the shot at the :14.1 mark. His free throw gave the Bears a 76-72 lead.

Kuzma drained a long three-pointer to make it a one point margin, but Bird dropped in a pair of clutch free throws to make it 78-75 with 5.5 seconds remaining. Utah came up court, and Barefield missed badly on a contested three as time ran out.

The Bears earn the opportunity to face Oregon for the third time on Friday night at 6:00 PM. The T- Mobile arena will be packed with a sellout crowd. "We lost a tough one at home to them," said Martin. "We didn't play as well at their place. We understand the task at hand and what we have to do."

Game Notes

-The crowd was announced at 12,782.

-Utah fell to 20-11. They have not been mentioned in any of the bubble talk for the NCAA Tournament.

-Cal had just 8 turnovers, one of their better efforts.

-Kuzma led the Utes with 23 points.

To view postgame highlight video along with a postgame interview with point guard Charlie Moore and press conference interviews with head coach Cuonzo Martin, Jabari Bird and Moore, use the embedded viewers below:

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