Men’s Basketball: Runnin’ Utes fall at Cal 71-58, remain winless in Pac-12 play

IMG_0938 Emily Juchau

Utah was unable to bounce back after an overtime loss to Stanford on Friday and dropped its second game in a row, this time to Cal, 71-58. The Utes are now 0-2 to kick off conference play.

Jakob Poeltl finished with a team-high 19 points and 10 rebounds, while senior Brandon Taylor followed with 15 points on 5-of-8 shooting and also dished out five assists. The team shot 38.5 percent from the floor and only 16.7 percent from three-point range.

Associate head coach Tommy Connor thinks that if Taylor hadn’t found his rhythm in the second half, the team’s shooting percentage would not have been as high as it was. However, he also noted that Poeltl could have had more than his nearly-20 points, but he credits Cal for its stiff defense all game long.

“[Poeltl] uncharacteristically missed some shots around the rim tonight,” Connor said in a postgame interview with ESPN700. “They’re an outstanding defensive team — they’re number one in our league, and there’s a reason; they’re really good. They’re not going to let us get easy baskets and easy shots, and they did a really good job with it tonight.”

Cal shot 44.1 percent from the floor and a much better 41.7 percent from beyond the arc.

Brekkott Chapman started ahead of Kyle Kuzma for his first start this season and drained a three-pointer to open up the game for the Utes. Utah had an early 8-4 lead about five minutes into the game, but Cal went on a run and eventually held an 18-10 lead over the Runnin’ Utes.

The Golden Bears continued to add to their lead and were up by double digits with under four minutes left to go in the first half.

Poeltl soon found momentum, however, and scored eight, cutting Cal’s lead in half, and at halftime the Utes were down just four points, 26-22. The big man also stayed out of foul trouble, something he’s struggled with so far this season, for the first 20 minutes of play, and he was only whistled once.

Overall, the team was shooting 29.6 percent from the floor compared to Cal’s 36.7 percent shooting in the first frame.

“We felt really good in the first half,” Connor said in his postgame interview. “Ended the first half being down four, only shooting 30 percent. Did a good job guarding them so we had some energy in the locker room.”

Utah was keeping up with Cal to open the second half, but the Golden Bears quickly got out to an eight-point lead. To make matters worse for the Utes, Kuzma went down after injuring his lower back on an attempted dunk and was sidelined for the rest of the game.

The Golden Bears had a 10-point lead until Taylor knocked down a three to cut the lead to seven, and on the Utes’ next offensive possession, he found Chris Reyes for an open shot.

With about eight minutes left to go, Tucker got an offensive rebound off a Utah foul shot, and Poeltl eventually got to hole with a dunk, cutting the lead to just three points. However, after a couple of three-point plays from Cal, the Golden Bears were back on top by 10.

After being subbed in, Chapman picked up his fifth foul just seconds after, fouling out with less than five minutes left to play. When the Golden Bears went to the line, they missed the front end of a one-and-one, but Utah got called for a lane violation. Golden Bear freshman Ivan Rabb made the Utes pay by making the following free throws to walk away with two points instead of the original zero. With 3:26 left to go, the Utes were down 62-51.

Utah made it a six-point game with under two minutes, but Cal found a couple of gaps in the Utah defense to get the lead back up to double digits and seal the deal.

The Utes have one more game on the road at Colorado on Friday night, so Connor hopes the team can get in a few good workouts between now and then to get back on the right track.

“We knew this was going to be a tough game. I thought our guys defended and battled,” Connor said in the interview. “They made better plays than we did. We got to bounce back and get better in practice.”

k.brenneisen@dailyutahchronicle.com

@kbrenneisen