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Runnin' Utes analysis: Utah beats Cal at the free-throw line

SALT LAKE CITY — The Utes are picking up steam and are doing so at the perfect time.

Utah hosted the California Golden Bears Sunday night, a game it was able to win 76-61. The victory extends the Utes' current winning streak to four straight games.

Why Utah won: The Utes were able to secure the victory over Cal thanks to their ability to attack the basket, draw fouls and then convert at the free-throw line.

The Golden Bears made more field goals than the Utes, shot a better percentage from the field, and won the rebounding battle, but the Utes' ability to get to the free-throw line ended up being the difference-maker in the final outcome.

Utah made 21 of its 29 free-throw attempts in the game, where as California only made 5 of its 12 attempts.

Turning point: With just over five minutes left in the first half, California's Jabari Bird hit a jump shot that put the Golden Bears up 32-26. The Utes were in need of a momentum shift, and they answered the bell by storming on a 20-2 run.

After the run, the Golden Bears attempted to claw their way out of the deficit, but the momentum was too much on Utah's side, and the Utes were able to secure the win.

What it means: As the end of the season edges closer and closer, the Utes seem to be getting hot at just the right time.

Utah will play two of the top five teams in the conference before the end of February, one of which is the Arizona Wildcats. The Utes are currently battling with the Wildcats for the top spot in the conference and will host them in Salt Lake City on Feb. 28.

If the Utes can ride the current wave of momentum, and continue to pull out victories against conference opponents, they could potentially coast their way to becoming Pac-12 champion.

Grading the teams: The Utes weren't as on target shooting the ball as they have been in weeks past, hitting 44.4 percent from the field. It certainly wasn't a terrible shooting game, but on a night where California hit 45.6 percent of its shots, the pressure was a little heavier on Utah to make up for it in other ways.

At the free-throw line is where Utah was able to really make the difference, as it knocked down 21 free throws in the game. Delon Wright made all eight of his attempts.

Utah lost the rebounding battle 35 to 34 but was able to win the turnover battle, only committing seven to Cal's 13.

The Utes proved that they are an extremely dangerous team, even when they aren't playing at their best. Their defensive pressure and smooth ball movement continue to be the biggest factors towards their success, and that will give them a good chance to win in any game that they play.

Utah Runnin' Utes grade: B

California made it clear early on that it wasn't going lie down and let the Utes stomp all over it for 40 minutes. It came close through most of the first half, and if it wasn't for a 20-2 run by the Utes, it may have been a nail-biting finish.

The Golden Bears shot a better percentage from the field than the Utes, something that very few teams do, especially in Salt Lake.

Getting into a rhythm as an entire team was something that California really struggled with. Jabari Bird and Tyrone Wallace were on fire, scoring 26 and 21 points respectively, but the rest of the team scored only 14 points combined.

While the one-two-punch of Bird and Wallace was indeed effective for the Bears, they needed more production from the rest of the team, and weren't able to get it.

California kept it close for most of the first half, but in the end, it came up against one of the toughest teams in the country and couldn't match up. Sitting with a 16-10 record, the Bears have had a good season thus far, and have a good team. They just met a better one on Sunday.

California Golden Bears grade: B-

Three telling stats:

— Utah is undefeated with a 15-0 record when playing in the Huntsman Center this season.

— The Utes are undefeated in games in which they make at least 15 free throws. They made 21 Sunday against Cal.

— Utah's bench outscored California's bench 20 to 10.

Up next: The Utes will head to Corvallis, Oregon, on Thursday for a late-night matchup with the Oregon State Beavers. That game will be broadcast on the Pac-12 Network.

You can follow Mitch Kunzler on Twitter at @MitchKunzler.