A lack of urgency and defensive focus has put Utah into a tough spot when it hosts last-place California in Pac-12 play at Salt Lake City on Sunday.
The Utes (15-9, 8-5 Pac-12) have no room for error left in their quest to claim an NCAA Tournament bid in March. Utah has slipped to a NET ranking of 55 after losing 78-72 to Stanford on Thursday.
Now the Utes must make up some major ground after falling to the Cardinal.
Stanford led by as many as 17 points in the second half and shot 53.1 percent from the field — including 10-of-18 from 3-point range. The inability to get defensive stops canceled out a stellar performance from Lazar Stefanovic, who finished with a career-high 26 points while filling in for injured starter Gabe Madsen (leg).
“Just the lack of urgency was astounding,” Utah coach Craig Smith said. “So, obviously we are very disappointed.”
Madsen’s absence keyed some offensive struggles. Without their second leading scorer and best outside shooter, the Utes shot just 12 of 34 from 3-point range.
Cal, which has lost six straight games, will also be shorthanded when it faces Utah on Sunday.
The Golden Bears (3-19, 2-9 Pac-12) lost leading scorer Devin Askew for the season on Wednesday due to sports hernia surgery. Askew, who averaged 15.5 points per game, appeared in only one game in January due to his injuries.
“I am disappointed for Devin because he loves to play,” Cal coach Mark Fox said. “Our team will rally again to support him in recovery. We are encouraged that the procedure went well and he will make a full recovery in time to have a full offseason.”
DeJuan Clayton (9.6 points per game) also sat out of the Bears’ 59-46 loss Thursday to Colorado. Injuries have already limited Clayton to just seven games this season.
Without two of their top three scorers, the Bears did not have enough offense to keep up with the Buffaloes and mustered just 19 second-half points.
Utah beat California in the previous game between the two teams this season, downing the host Bears 58-43 on Dec. 29.
–Field Level Media