The Utah Runnin’ Utes returned to Pac-12 play and their winning ways on Thursday night, beating California 58-43 at Haas Pavilion to improve their league record to 3-0.
Utah improved to 10-4 overall with the win, which came after back-to-back losses before Christmas to BYU and No. 20 TCU. Cal fell to 0-3 and 1-13.
Here are three keys to Utah’s win:
• Utah turned to its defense to hold off the one-win Bears, forcing the home team into 15 of 44 shooting and 13 turnovers. The Utes didn’t shoot particularly well (40%) but scored 23 points off Cal’s turnovers to win going away.
• The Utes missed their first 11 3-point attempts — they were 0 for 9 from deep in the first half — before freshman Wilguens Exacte Jr. hit a triple with 13:20 left in the game. The shot gave Utah a 36-31 lead and spurred a 13-0 run that gave the Utes some breathing room.
Branden Carlson and Lazar Stefanovic led the Utes with 11 points apiece.
• Utah struggled offensively the first half of the first half, scoring just 10 points in the first nine minutes. But the Utes found some rhythm when coach Craig Smith subbed in Keba Keita, Luka Tarlac and Exacte, and pushed the lead out to 10 with three minutes remaining in the first half.
Utah led 27-18 at halftime, with Marco Anthony’s seven points leading the way. Carlson had just two at the break, on free throws. The Utes’ defense was superb in the first half, as Cal shot 32% (8 of 25) from the floor and was outscored 20-10 in the paint in the first 20 minutes.