2016 Pac-12 Men's Basketball Tournament: Jakob Poeltl pushes Utah past California
LAS VEGAS – A day earlier, Jakob Poeltl's teammates made life easy on the Utah center, bailing him out against USC and playing aggressively off the Utes' leading scorer to reach the Pac-12 Tournament semifinals.
On Friday in an 82-78 overtime win against No. 3 seed California, Poeltl must have felt like he owed the rest of the second-seeded Utes.
The sophomore center went 10-of-18 from the floor, scoring 29 points and grabbing 11 rebounds while having his way with Golden Bears bigs Kameron Rooks, Kingsley Okoroh and Ivan Rabb.
Poeltl also knocked down 9-of-12 free throws, necessary ones in a defensive battle that saw both teams shoot 43 percent from the floor.
"Kind of a Friday night heavyweight fight, knock down, drag out," said Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak. "(Cal is) committed to guarding. We're not surprised at all that we weren't getting great looks. Because that's what they hang their hats on."
Utah advances to face top-seeded Oregon at 7 p.m. PT/8 p.m. MT Saturday in the MGM Grand Garden Arena.
Along with Poeltl's big game, the Utes required late heroics from Lorenzo Bonam to reach overtime against the Golden Bears.
After Cal swingman Jabari Bird finished off an and-one with a free throw for a 70-68 California lead and only 4.3 seconds remaining in regulation, Bonam took the inbound pass the length of the floor and scored a layup as time expired.
"I mean, (Krystkowiak) said go to the basket so I just went to the basket," Bonam said.
Utah led 42-41 with 14 minutes to play but from there trailed until Poeltl's and-one finish and made free throw with 49 seconds left gave the Utes a 66-65 lead. Bird answered for Cal with a mid-range jumper 10 seconds later, but the Golden Bears fouled Utah point guard Brandon Taylor, who hit the two free throws on the ensuing possession.
Again, it was Bird to the rescue.
Cal's Jaylen Brown missed a driving layup, and Bird followed with his and-one. His free throw gave the Golden Bears their two-point lead with 4.3 seconds left before Bonam, who finished with 18 points, forced overtime.
"It's been a little bit of our mantra all year. It's OK to lose but we're going to to go down swinging," Krystkowiak said. "We've talked a lot about believing in ourselves and it was a fortunate play."
On an evening where many eyes were on Cal's potential NBA lottery picks, Brown and Rabb, it was Golden Bears senior guard Ty Wallace who shined for Cal.
Wallace scored 26 points on 10-of-21 shooting a night after going 1-for-9 from the field and relying on his playmaking with 10 assists to help Cal beat Oregon State.
Rabb scored 11 points, and Brown struggled shooting from the field. He finished with 12 points, but hit just 3-of-17 shots while adding five rebounds and five assists.
In the end, the likely 2016 NBA Draft pick who shined the most was Poeltl, who continued attacking as California stubbornly defended him with one-on-one coverage, hoping his Utah teammates wouldn't get hot.
"To be honest, I just tried to stay aggressive throughout the whole game," Poeltl said. "They guarded me one-on-one today, so I just tried to take it at them."