Berkeley, Calif. • Missing its best post player and facing a defense coach Lindsay Gottlieb admittedly wasn’t prepared for, California needed a lift.
The seventh-ranked Golden Bears found it in a four-guard lineup and a full-court press defense that created all sorts of havoc for Utah.
Reshanda Gray scored 19 points and sparked a big run in the second half before leaving with a left hamstring injury, Layshia Clarendon added 23 and California beat Utah 71-54 on Sunday.
“That’s what we’re about, let’s find a way and get it done,” Gottlieb said. “That was obviously the shift in the game when we upped the pressure, got a bunch of steals and made plays the way we like to.”
Afure Jemerigbe scored 10 points while guard Eliza Pierre had five points, four assists and eight rebounds while playing the post position at the top of Cal’s smothering press in the second half.
That helped the Bears to their seventh consecutive win over the Utes and assures Cal (17-2, 7-1 Pac-12) of keeping at least a share of first place in the conference.
The Bears had trouble getting anything going against Utah’s triangle-and-two defense until Gray scored 11 points as part of a 17-4 run midway through the second half.
Utah committed 21 turnovers, including six in seven possessions after Cal made the defensive switch and went to the full-court press.
“That’s normally a strength of our team,” Utes coach Anthony Levrets said of his team’s ability to avoid turnovers. “We were tired ... and when you’re tired like that sometimes that can overwhelm you, and it did tonight.”
Michelle Plouffe scored 19 points and Paige Crozon added 13 for Utah (10-9, 1-7).
The Utes played without second-leading scorer Taryn Wicijowski who injured her right knee while attempting a layup in the first half of Friday’s loss to Stanford. She’s scheduled to undergo an MRI in Salt Lake City on Monday.
“I couldn’t be prouder of our team,” Leverts said. “But it was a disappointing couple of stretches that cost us the game.”
Storylines Bears get defensive
R Cal beats Utah for the seventh straight time, 71-54.
• The Bears’ full-court press in the second half leads to a 17-4 run.