BERKELEY, Calif. — Prior to Wednesday night’s 63-59 win at California, Utah forward Jordan Loveridge said the Utes weren’t giving much thought to where this week’s games were being played.
As the final week of the regular season unfolds, concerns about their now 2-6 road record in Pac-12 play were secondary to the task at hand.
“It’s not road or home games right now,” Loveridge said. “It’s just winning any game, no matter where we’re at. We just need to get wins.”
In other words, he explained, the Utes (20-9, 9-8) simply want to play their best basketball at this time of year. They visit Stanford Saturday before heading to Las Vegas next week for the conference tournament. Seeding is still up for grabs entering the finale.
Utah held a 26-24 halftime advantage. Princeton Onwas and Kenneth Ogbe led a balanced attack with six points apiece. The lead changed hands three times and was tied twice in the first.
Cal (18-12, 9-8) opened the game with a 7-0 run and later built a 17-9 lead before the Utes were able to pull ahead for the first time. Ogbe hit a pair of 3-pointers during a 9-0 spurt that put the Utes on top at 18-17. They took their biggest lead of the half at 22-19 on a basket by Dallin Bachynski with 3:34 remaining in the half.
Cal managed to pull even before the intermission, but Marko Kovacevic capped things off with a late score to put Utah back in the lead before the half was complete.
It didn’t take long, however, for Cal to turn the tables when play resumed. The Bears opened the second half with a 6-2 run to take the lead from the Utes.
A seesaw affair ensued with Utah reclaiming an edge and Cal countering to do the same over a span of nearly five minutes that followed.
The Utes, though, put an end to the exchanges — albeit for a while —when Brandon Taylor hit two 3-pointers and Renan Lenz added a dunk during an 8-1 run. The outburst gave Utah a 44-38 lead with exactly nine minutes left to play.
The Utes managed to stay in front for nearly five minutes — leading by six on one other occasion — before the Bears clawed back into contention. Cal knotted the score at 48-48 with 4:03 to go on a pair of free throws by Tyrone Wallace. At 3:27, Richard Solomon made two more to give the Bears a 50-48 edge.
The Utes responded offensively and defensively down the stretch. They held Cal scoreless for more than three minutes. During that time, Delon Wright and Taylor each hit a pair of free throws as Utah regained the lead at 52-50.
Taylor followed with a 3-pointer and Wright made two more foul shots in the final minute as the Utes increased the score to 57-50 with 41.7 seconds remaining. The Bears drew no closer than four the rest of the way. Loveridge contributed four free throws down the stretch, and Lenz and Wright each made one, providing enough of a cushion for the Utes to prevail.
Before heading to the Bay Area, Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak said that the Utes’ 79-71 win at USC on Feb. 13 ended talk about something this season’s team had yet to do — win on the road. However, he added that it didn’t really change things all that much.
“It’s not an accomplishment that’s going to give us a springboard and all of a sudden should become easier,” Krystkowiak said. “I think that’s what makes the road hard is it’s a bit of a grind and you have to be a lot better.”
The coaching staff, he added, has taken a close look at the games Utah has lost away from the Huntsman Center this season and determined that the Utes played pretty well. There were just lapses.
“The thing is you’ve got to end those four- and six-point swings when the momentum gets carried away. Put an end to them and not let them turn into eight- and 10-point swings,” Krystkowiak said. “I’m not sure. Hopefully it’s a maturity thing and an experience thing that we’ve experienced and we’ll be able to put our foot down and bring an end to that.”
Krystkowiak added that at the end of the day, the court — home or away — is still 94 feet long and the old cliche about the baskets being 10 feet tall and all that stuff holds true.
“We’re going to have to be stronger and probably more dialed in and together when we hit the road than we can get away with at home,” he said.