SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Utah spent the better part of 40 minutes dominating California on both ends of the floor. The Utes generated explosive offense through efficient passing and imposed suffocating defense on the Bears.
Those two outcomes were connected by a common thread — a renewed commitment by Utah to team defense this week after a road loss to Colorado a week ago.
“We just tried to shift our focus away from the offense and just focus, really, on the defense, on creating opportunities in transition,” senior point guard Justin Bibbins said. “Once our defense was flowing we played way more freely on offense.”
David Collette scored 18 points on 9-of-10 shooting in a dominant performance around the paint to pace Utah’s offense. Bibbins chipped in 15 and Sedrick Barefield added 13 for the Utes. Tyler Rawson added a team-high eight assists.
Utah (15-9, 7-6 Pac-12) won its fourth straight at home against Pac-12 opponents.
Darius McNeill scored 10 points to lead California. The Bears (8-18, 2-11) lost their sixth straight road game after going 3-0 away from home to start the season.
California struggled to adjust to Utah’s defensive pressure in the first half and quickly coughed up several turnovers. The Bears totaled six turnovers in the first 8 ½ minutes and racked up 11 turnovers by halftime. Utah scored 17 points off those turnovers.
“We were not flowing at all,” California coach Wyking Jones said. “The pace wasn’t what we were accustomed to and we just didn’t have any energy.”
It opened the door for the Utes to gradually pull away as the first half progressed.
California initially seized an 8-4 lead behind back-to-back baskets from McNeill. Bibbins evened the score with a 4-point play that also sparked a 10-0 run. The senior point guard finished off the run with a layup that gave Utah a 14-8 lead.
The Utes carved out their first double digit lead behind an 11-2 run later in the half. Barefield and Collette combined to score baskets over three straight possessions to get things going. Then Collette finished off the run with back-to-back layups, giving Utah a 30-18 advantage.
Utah had 14 assists on 15 baskets in the first half alone.
“That’s just what Utah basketball is about, just making one more pass,” Bibbins said. “Making the extra pass and playing the right way. When we do that, we’re a great team and we play fun basketball. It’s nice to go out there and showcase that.”
California scored one field goal — a buzzer-beating 3-pointer from Don Coleman — over the final five minutes of the first half. The Utes took advantage, pushing their lead to 40-21. Collette and Bibbins fueled the run with a pair of baskets apiece.
“We’re really committed to playing defense,” Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak said. “It feels good. It feels like we’re playing the game the right way. It seems like it’s energetic.”
Utah led by as many as 34 points in the second half. The Utes took their largest lead in the final minute on back-to-back baskets from Parker Van Dyke and Jayce Johnson.
THE BIG PICTURE
California: Scoring droughts and turnovers doomed the Bears. California endured a five-minute stretch in the first half and a six-minute stretch in the second half where it scored a single basket. It resulted in the Bears being held under 50 points for the first time this season.
Utah: The Utes are clicking on offense again at the right time. One reason for it is Utah’s renewed dominance around the basket. The Utes averaged 34 points in the paint in their victories over Stanford and California this week.
FINAL FOUR RECOGNITION
Utah honored its team that reached the 1998 Final Four at halftime. The Utes, led then by point guard Andre Miller and coached by the late Rick Majerus, raced off to an 18-0 start that season and eventually beat No. 1 seeds Arizona and North Carolina to earn a shot at winning a national title. Utah eventually fell to Kentucky 78-69 in the national championship game.
California: The Bears host archrival Stanford on Feb. 18.
Utah: The Utes play at Washington on Thursday.
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