Runnin’ Utes win 17th-straight at home, beat Cal

By Griffin Adams and Griffin Adams

Before Pac-12 play began, freshman center Jakob Poeltl was pegged as a potential NBA lottery pick. Professional scouts and analysts were impressed with the way the seven-footer moved around the court so fluidly and even ESPN’s Chad Ford had Poeltl high on his mock draft list.

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The Austrian’s play since then has dialed back a bit, but everyone in the Huntsman Center on Sunday evening that witnessed No. 11 Utah’s 76-61 win over Cal saw the potential that lies within the center.

Poeltl led the way for the Runnin’ Utes with 18 points and eight rebounds to go along with his two blocks, as he dominated down low. Helping Poeltl was Delon Wright, who finished with 16 points and five assists, and Brandon Taylor, who registered 13 points on 4-for-5 shooting from deep.

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Poeltl really made his impact in the second half, where he became Utah’s go-to guy down low. The center had his way in the paint, highlighted by a fake-handoff that led to an emphatic reverse slam.

Poeltl’s 18 points was his highest since he scored 24 against North Dakota in November, but the Austrian claims he didn’t really change things up at all against the Golden Bears.

“I really don’t know,” Poeltl said of what he did differently tonight. “I tried to be aggressive. I had some easy ones at the beginning and that kind of got me going and then, every short felt great and they went in.”

Utah came out of the gate on fire. In just over six minutes of play, three separate Utes drained from three-point land to give Utah the early 15-7 lead.

However, the Golden Bears would not go away and played as if they had something to prove. With an early sense of urgency, Cal caught the Runnin’ Utes off guard with a 13-2 run to counter the hot Utah start.

“We just didn’t have much energy,” Krystkowiak said. “They were playing a heckuva lot harder offensively than we were defensively … let’s not fool ourselves, we just need to play harder.”

The story during that 13-2 run for the Golden Bears was Tyrone Wallace. The junior scored eight of Cal’s 13 points in that stretch, and he wasn’t done there. By the end of the first half, Wallace had 17 points on 7-for-8 shooting, and was single-handedly keeping the Golden Bears in this game.

Krystkowiak was not happy with the defense being played on Wallace and decided to make a change by assigning Taylor to shadow him. The call proved to be a good one as Wallace was shut out for the remainder of the half.

But just like in their last game against Stanford, when the clock was winding down, the Utes kicked into another gear. With 2:37 left in the first half and down 32-31, the Utes finished the slate on a 9-2 run to head into the locker rooms with momentum and the 40-34 lead.

It was a slow start to the second half, as only six points were scored in the first six minutes of play between the two teams – all of them by Utah.

Things got a lot more interesting, though, when Wright was found on the court grimacing in pain. With just about 10 minutes remaining in the game, the star guard rolled his ankle, coming up with a limp.

“It didn’t feel too good at the time,” Wright said.

As teammates ran to his side to aid him off of the court, the 14,159 fans in attendance grew silent.

Wright made his way back to the locker room, but not without help from the trainers. But it wasn’t long before the point guard was jogging in the locker room hallway and, to the delight of Krystkowiak and the Ute faithful, making his way back to the Utah bench.

“That was troubling, for sure. The life in the building was sucked out of there for a minute,” Krystkowiak said of Wright’s scare.

Minutes later, Wright was back in the game.

Cal was led by Wallace with 26 points on 11-for 15 shooting, while Jabari Bird did his part with 21 points on 10-for-14 shooting. The rest of the Golden Bears combined for a dismal 5-for-28 shooting effort from the field.

The Runnin’ Utes will head to Corvallis on Thursday to take on Oregon State, where tip-off is scheduled for 9:00 p.m.

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@GriffDoug