Women’s Basketball: Utah upsets No. 21 Cal in fourth-quarter comeback

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Utah earned its second conference win with an upset over 21-ranked Cal in Berkeley on Sunday afternoon as the Utes defeated the Golden Bears 84-79. Cal led Utah 49-31 at halftime, bolstered by Kristine Anigwe’s 12 points, but Utah fought back in the second half, outscoring the Golden Bears 53-30 in the final two periods of play. It was the program’s first win over a ranked opponent since 2008.

Utah was carried by star center Emily Potter and wings Malia Nawahine and Katie Kuklok, all combining for 62 of Utah’s 84 points. Utah was also given great play by forward Paige Crozon, who struggled to shoot the ball from the floor but made herself effective in other facets of the game, playing all 40 minutes of the contest.

Utah battled Cal through the first quarter of play, winning the period 19-17. But the Golden Bears were able to get back to their brand of basketball, characterized by frenetic ball movement, leading to high percentage shots, in the second period, distancing Utah with a 19-point lead at the break.

Utah rectified its second quarter woes, which included eight turnovers and just 4-for-11 shooting from the field on the period, to claw back into the game. Late in the third quarter, Utah wing Katie Kuklok knocked down back-to-back three pointers, trimming the Cal lead to 11. Following Mukluk’s eight-point quarter, Utah trailed Cal 68-57 at the horn.

And just like that, Utah’s opportunistic defense catalyzed an 11-2 run in the opening three minutes of the final quarter. Utah never looked back, outscoring Cal 27-11 in the final period of play to upset the Golden Bears on their home floor.

“I’m really proud of our team. The one thing we keep talking about is toughness, showing toughness,” said Utah head coach Lynne Roberts. “To be down 19 and come back in the second half on the road against a ranked opponent shows what we’ve been looking for, which is that toughness.”

Fans have become accustomed to watching great point guard play from Utah senior Dani Rodriguez, but tonight Erika Bean led the attack, totaling eight assists and five rebounds on the contest, both career-highs for the freshman out of Sacramento.

“Erika was a real big difference-maker. In transition she seemed to make all the right reads and decisions. Eight assists for a freshman in this environment on the road is impressive,” Roberts said.

While Utah was able to outscore Cal, fueled by its many offensive weapons, Potter anchored a strong defensive output against one of the Pac 12’s better offensive teams. She finished the game with six blocked shots, one shy of tying a career-high, and grabbed nine rebounds as well to go along with her 20 points.

With this win Utah moves to 11-4 on the season and 3-1 in conference play, good enough for a four-way tie for second place in the Pac-12 between Stanford, Oregon State and UCLA.

The Utes will now receive a few days off before resuming play against Arizona on their four-game road trip. Utah will face the Wildcats this Friday at 7 p.m. MST.

w.porter@dailyutahchronicle.com

@westinjay