BERKELEY, Calif. — The Utah basketball team has played nearly every top team in the Pac-12 Conference close this year, from Arizona to UCLA to Oregon.
Now the Utes get a shot at the league's hottest team when they take on the Cal Bears Thursday night at Haas Pavilion (7 p.m. on ESPNU).
The Bears (18-9, 10-5) have won five straight games, including an eight-point win over Arizona in Tucson and a two-point win over Oregon at Eugene. The latest win was a 60-59 win at Oregon State.
"California is playing as well as anyone in our league right now," said Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak. "I would say they are the hottest team in the league, for sure. Their offense is clicking, they're defending and they have some great firepower with (Allen) Crabbe and (Justin) Cobbs to start with. A lot of those other guys are playing their best basketball of the season as well."
The Utes have actually played the Bears already, losing a 62-57 decision in Salt Lake. However, that game wasn't as close as it looks as the Utes trailed by double digits throughout the second half before making a late rush at the end.
In that game, the Utes couldn't contain Crabbe, who is one of the leading candidates for league player of the year honors. He scored 23 points on 4-of-7 shooting from 3-point range. For the season, Crabbe averages 19.0 points and 5.8 rebounds.
Other starters for the Bears are Cobbs (14.9 ppg, 4.6 assists), Richard Solomon (8.6 ppg 6.7 rpg), David Kravish (8.0 ppg, 6.9 rpg) and Tyrone Wallace (7.1 ppg).
While the Utes (11-15, 3-11) will be doing their best to win Thursday's game, they're also looking ahead to the Pac-12 tournament in two weeks.
"We have four games before that and we're trying to get that ship sailing in the right direction before the tournament," said Krystkowiak. "We're talking about playing every possession like it's the last one. We've got four games and then the tourney, so there's no reason not to lay it out there."
Krystkowiak said earlier this week that he plans to use more players down the stretch in an effort to have a fresh team for the tourney. That means players like freshmen Dakarai Tucker and Jeremy Olsen may see increased minutes, along with Glen Dean, Justin Seymour and Renan Lenz.
Cal is coached by Krystkowiak's former coach at Montana, Mike Montgomery, who got in a bit of trouble recently for shoving Crabbe during a game. Montgomery has a lot of respect for his former player and the job he's doing at Utah.
"Utah is scary because they've played everybody tough and they're very good defensively," Montgomery said. "(Krystkowiak) has got them doing a lot of really good things. He's obviously got their attention. They have five freshman and they're playing hard."
GAME NOTES: Ute center Jason Washburn is 16 points away from reaching the 1,000-point plateau for his career. …Jarred DuBois leads the Utes in scoring (11.8 ppg), assists (3.1) and free throw shooting (83.6 percent). … Unlike a previous road trip to Washington, the Utes will not come home between games and will stay in the Bay Area until their game Sunday at Stanford. … Utah leads the league in defensive scoring (62.2 ppg), field goal percentage defense (39.0) and free throw shooting (75.1 percent). Utah is also tied for first in 3-point shooting with Arizona at 36.2 percent, while Cal is last in the league in that category at 30.9 percent.
Utes on the air
Utah (11-15, 3-11) at Cal (18-9, 10-5)
Today, 7 p.m.
Haas Pavilion, Berkeley, Calif.
Radio: 700 AM