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With Rylan Jones out with injury, Ian Martinez delivered a breakout game in win over Cal

Martinez scored a career-high 16 points, helping Utah outlast Cal to win its third straight Pac-12 game

Utah guard Ian Martinez (2) shoots against California forward Matt Bradley during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Berkeley, Calif., Thursday, Feb. 11, 2021.
Jed Jacobsohn, AP

If University of Utah freshman guard Ian Martinez goes on to have the kind of outstanding college basketball career that is expected of him, his performance in Thursday’s 76-75 win over Cal will be remembered as the one that got it kick-started.

Finally.

Martinez, who has yet to live up to his billing as one of the most highly touted incoming prospects in Utah basketball history, showed what he is capable of at Haas Pavilion in Berkeley, California, to lead the Utes to their third straight win.

Getting extended minutes because starting point guard Rylan Jones was sidelined with a shoulder injury, Martinez came off the bench to score a career-high 16 points and grab five rebounds in the key Pac-12 victory.

“I was just trying to stay focused throughout the game on both defense and offense, especially on defense,” Martinez told reporters via Zoom after the game. “That kind of helps me get into my groove, helping the team. My mentality is just to go out there and be helpful to the team in whatever they need me.”

They really, really needed him Thursday.

Alfonso Plummer got the start in Jones’ absence and scored all nine of his points in the first half. Martinez subbed in and scored seven points in the first half, then rescued the fading Utes in the second half.

The only other non-starter to score was Riley Battin, who hit a huge 3-pointer in the second half.

Coach Larry Krystkowiak said Martinez was “challenged” in practice to step up, and the native of Heredia, Costa Rica, who prepped at JSerra Catholic in California did just that.

“It wasn’t an easy week for Ian,” Krystkowiak said, while declining to discuss the extent of Jones’ injury, or when it happened. “We are pushing him. To be able to come out in a game on the road and have some success, I think everybody is super happy for him. It was a big-time performance on his part tonight.”

With five minutes remaining, after Utah had blown another double-digit halftime lead over Cal, Martinez hit a huge 3-pointer to give the Utes a 64-60 lead. Moments later, he followed his own miss after an inbounds pass with a putback bucket to help Utah maintain its lead.

He made two clutch free throws with two minutes remaining, after getting fouled with less than three seconds on the shot clock, to push Utah’s advantage to six points.

He attributed the success to being prepared.

“I mean, I am always ready for that. I know what I can do when I get the ball. And maybe I will have some days off when I am not playing that well. But I am always ready,” he said.

Was it the breakout game Krystkowiak has been expecting?

“Well, I don’t ever have those kind of expectations,” he said. “I just know that karma is big in basketball. And when you practice hard and you practice focused, and you push yourself … you get to enjoy the fruits of (your) labor.”

A four-star recruit out of high school, Martinez was averaging just 3.1 points entering the contest.

“Just really proud of him,” Krystkowiak said. “It is one of those freshman experiences he can chalk up and (say), ‘When I really work hard the week of a game, all of a sudden I am getting asked to do an interview post game on TV.’”

Utah remains in the Bay Area and plays at Stanford on Saturday at 8 p.m. MST.