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Utah freshman center Jakob Poeltl came up big against Cal

SALT LAKE CITY — Jakob Poeltl stood tall in Utah’s 76-61 win over California Sunday night in the Huntsman Center. The 7-footer from Austria, who finished with 18 points, eight rebounds and two blocks, said he was just trying to be aggressive.

It worked.

Poeltl, who has battled a lingering ankle injury, was effective on both ends of the floor in 25 minutes of play. He finished with a team-high 18 points, along with eight rebounds and two blocks.

Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak noted that Poeltl was really solid and is getting some confidence back.

“He managed to stay on the floor without getting into foul trouble and I think that's the key,” Krystkowiak said. “I think he’s close to 100 percent healthy.”

Poeltl made 7 of 9 shots from the field and went to the line six times, making four.

“Our guys did a nice job of finding him some pick-and-rolls,” Krystkowiak said. “We ran a few inside plays for him and Cal got into some foul troubles, so we went at him.”

Although Poeltl acknowledged that it felt as if every shot might go in, he insists nothing was done differently.

“I just tried to play like I have been,” Poeltl said.

“My ankle hasn't bothered me too much the last few games,” he continued. “Conference play is much different. It has been a little harder than nonconference. I'm just trying to get used to things.”

Things, though, have gone well for the Utes in that regard. They've now won 17 in a row at home. Sunday’s victory assured the program of its first winning Pac-12 season since joining the conference in 2011-12. And at 20-4 overall and 10-2 in Pac-12 play, Utah moved up to ninth in both major rankings this week.

Any and all accolades, however, aren’t really being celebrated at this time. The Pac-12 co-leaders (with Arizona) are focusing on the remaining games on the schedule.

“All those things are good and it’s going to be a lot of fun, hopefully, to visit about them when it’s all said and done and we don’t have another game to play — stuff for the scrapbook and the history, whatever,” Krystkowiak explained. “But right now, we’re just plowing through and staying true to what we’ve always talked about — just trying to get a little bit better.”

Several Utes contributed to the latest step forward. Among those with strong showings against Cal were Delon Wright (16 points, five rebounds, three steals), Brandon Taylor (13 points, four 3-pointers), Dakarai Tucker (12 points) and Chris Reyes (10 rebounds).

Utah never trailed after building a 40-34 halftime advantage. The lead changed hands five times and the score was tied three times in the first half.

“We aren't going to be able to blow everyone out. They're a good team with real good guards,” Wright said. “We buckled down and started to defend. I thought we locked their players down more effectively in the second half.”

EXTRA STUFF: Utah is on the road this week. The Utes take on Oregon State Thursday (9 p.m. MST, Pac-12 Networks) and Oregon Sunday (1 p.m. MST, Fox Sports 1). ... Poeltl grabbed a game-high six offensive rebounds. ... Wright was 8 for 8 from the free-throw line. ... Cal guards Tyrone Wallace and Jabari Bird combined to make 21 of 29 shots and score 47 points.

Email: dirk@desnews.com

Twitter: @DirkFacer