BERKELEY, Calif. (AP) — First-year California coach Mark Fox never really bought into the preseason talk that his team was destined to finish last in the Pac-12 Conference.
Not only have the Golden Bears avoided that scenario, they’re making some noise as the conference tournament nears.
Matt Bradley scored six of his 21 points in overtime before fouling out, and California held on to beat Utah 86-79 on Saturday.
Andre Kelly had 15 points, nine rebounds and a career-high five blocks, Grant Anticevich added 17 points and eight rebounds, and Paris Austin scored 15 with four assists for California (13-16, 7-9 Pac-12).
“I got sick of everybody telling us how bad we were going to be because I just didn’t think we would be,” Fox said. “I wasn’t going to accept that and I wasn’t going to let our team accept that. We’re not anywhere near where we want to be but the perception and the feelings about our team and this program are drastically different than what I heard all this summer.”
Back-to-back wins at Haas Pavilion to close out their home schedule has helped the Bears beat the preseason expectations.
Two days after knocking off No. 21 Colorado, California needed to go overtime to beat Utah, a team it had lost to by 15 points three weeks earlier.
Bradley, who missed a desperation half-court heave at the end of regulation, scored California’s first points of overtime then added two free throws with 1:07 left. He fouled out 18 seconds later then watched from the bench as the Golden Bears ended a three-game losing streak against the Utes.
The Bears outscored the Utes 17-10 in overtime.
“We’ve played good at home all season so we just wanted to keep that going,” Kelly said. “We’re just trying to change the standard around here and compete every day, play really hard and just let that be the Cal way.”
Timmy Allen had 26 points for Utah (15-14, 6-11), while Alfonso Plummer scored a career-high 23.
Cal led by six with one minute remaining in regulation before Utah made a late push to force overtime. Plummer made a deep 3-pointer over the outstretched hand of Bradley with 10.3 seconds left, and Both Gach added two free throws with 2 seconds left after Austin missed one of two from the stripe.
Utah has lost five of six.
The Utes trailed much of the first half, then went on a 14-3 run to go up by four at halftime. Plummer had a pair of 3s and scored on a left-handed layup.
That helped the Utes make up for the loss of point guard Rylan Jones, who left the game early with an apparent head injury.
Jones and Bradley crashed into each other while going for a rebound. Bradley got the ball and scored but fell hard to the floor and stayed down before getting up and walking slowly off the floor. Jones remained flat on his back for several moments then was helped off the court and taken to the locker room. He came back out and sat at the end of Utah’s bench.
Before getting hurt, Jones had one steal and needs two more to break Josh Grant’s freshman team record of 42 set in 1988-89. … Gach had missed 21 consecutive 3-pointers before draining one four minutes into the second half. … California has been held to 25 points or fewer in the first half 10 times this season. … Utah is 0-9 in road conference games.
A FRIENDLY TEXT
Fox said he received a text Friday night from former Cal coach Wyking Jones, who was fired at the end of last season. “He’s been very supportive of these kids,” Fox said.
Utah: The Utes late-season fade is pushing them toward the bottom of the standings. Outside of a late run to end regulation, Utah was too sporadic on both ends of the court. Allen was outstanding, but the Utes made only two baskets in overtime.
California: Fox’s team is playing well and could make some noise in the Pac-12 Tournament, although they’re likely to go in as the 8th seed. That they won with two of their top scorers, Bradley and Kelly, on the bench after fouling out speaks volumes about the progress the Bears have made.
Utah: The Utes host Colorado in their final regular-season game on Friday.
California: The Bears play No. 14 Oregon on the road on Thursday.
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