After slow start, Utes pick up defensive intensity on way to comfortable win over Cal

first_img Related Utah Runnin’ Utes defeat Cal to clinch 1st winning Pac-12 season SALT LAKE CITY — It was looking a little shaky for the Utah basketball team Sunday night against Cal at the Huntsman Center, where the Utes hadn’t lost all season. Their average margin of victory in nine Pac-12 wins had been 23.7 points, yet they were trailing the upstart Bears by six late in the first half.It all came down to defense, of course, something Ute coach Larry Krsytkowiak has been preaching since the day he took the head coaching job four years ago.“We weren’t doing a very good job of guarding them,’’ Krystkowiak said. “We’ve talked a lot about playing defense and this is the first time in a long time (our opponent) was scoring in the first phase of their offense and then when they did miss a shot, we got outhustled for some 50-50 balls. We weren’t finishing any of those plays. They were playing a heck of a lot harder offensively than we were defensively.’’Then something clicked for the Utes.They forced an offensive foul on the Bears, Delon Wright stole the ball, Dakarai Tucker blocked a shot, the entire Ute defense forced a five-second call on an out-of-bounds play under the basket, and finally the defense forced a Cal player to throw a pass clear over everyone’s heads out of bounds.Just like that, a 28-22 deficit turned into a 40-34 halftime lead. The defensive intensity continued in the second half when the Bears, who had shot 50 percent from the field in the first half, missed their first 10 shots of the second half.Before long, the Utes were cruising to still another comfortable victory, this time by a 76-61 count, thanks in large part to their defensive intensity.“Let’s not fool ourselves, we just need to play harder and that made a difference in the second half,’’ Krystkowiak said.Delon Wright, who is second in the Pac-12 with 2.2 steals per game, came up with three more steals on the night and helped key the team’s defensive resurgence.“When guys are able to get steals and easy layups and block a shot and get fast-break points, our energy seems to rise,’’ Wright said. “I don’t think we really competed defensively in the first half. The second half we started to lock down and get it done.’’UTES HONOR FATHER OF ASSISTANT COACH: Before Sunday night’s game, there was a moment of silence to honor Rick Hill, the father of Utah assistant Andy Hill, who passed away Saturday morning.Rick Hill had been battling a rare form of brain cancer — one in a million, Krystkowiak said — for the last few months and succumbed the day before the Cal game. The Utes have dedicated their season to Rick Hill and have his initials sewn on their jerseys.“It was rough yesterday morning,’’ Krystkowiak said. “He means an awful lot to me. He’s a close friend of mine and a father to one of the people in our family. He’s been an inspiration to us all.’’Krystkowiak said Rick Hill had been on the decline in recent days.“He’s been struggling,’’ he said. “I know where he is — he was that kind of person where he’s going to have a life after this one. That’s what I think of, he’s not going to have to struggle anymore.’’The Ute players talked about Rick Hill, who addressed the team earlier this year before a home win over UCLA.“It was tough to lose someone in our family,’’ said Wright. “We knew Coach Hill was down and we just tried to lift him up and be there for him.’’“We’re a big family and we’re there to support the family in tough times,’’ added center Jakob Poeltl. “We dedicated the season to him and now we need to keep going hard.’’GAME NOTES: After making two turnovers in the opening two minutes of the game, the Utes only had five the rest of the way, finishing with seven for the game, compared to 13 for the Bears. … The Utes had an off-night shooting, making just 44.4 percent of their shots after coming in leading the Pac-12 at 49.3 percent. … Krystkowiak was disappointed the Utes lost the rebounding battle by one, 35-34. Chris Reyes led the way with 10 boards, while Poeltl added eight. … Attendance was 14,159. … The Utes play at Oregon State Thursday night and at Oregon Sunday before returning home to play Arizona State and Arizona the following week. Ute fans have to deal with a frightening thought Utah basketball analysis: Jakob Poeltl is healthy again and not missing shotslast_img

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