Utes guards Justin Bibbins and Sedrick Barefield looked like a dynamic two-headed monster Thursday night. It took time, but that duo seems to have meshed in a way that will help them both as the Utes attempt to push into the top third of the conference.
Bibbins’ addition as a graduate transfer from Long Beach State figured to give Utah interchangeable parts capable of putting pressure on a defense in multiple ways. However, Bibbins presence had relegated Barefield to a supporting role for a the majority of the season. Barefield struggled to find any consistency playing off the ball and went into a prolonged shooting slump.
The two now appear settled into a space where they can complement one another without taking away from each other’s game. The two will try to lead the Utes (14-9, 6-6) to another win when they host Cal (8-17, 2-10) at 7:30 p.m. Saturday in the Jon M. Huntsman Center.
Thursday’s win over Stanford provided a shining example of what it can look like for the two when they’re both comfortable and involved. Bibbins scored a game-high 18 points, made 7-of-9 field goals (4 for 4 on 3-pointers) and dished out four assists. Barefield scored 17 points on 6-of-14 shooting and also registered four assists. Neither committed a turnover.
“We’re putting the ball in his hands more. I think that’s why he’s thriving,” Bibbins said about Barefield. “We’re taking me off the ball. Sedrick’s involved in more pick-and-roll than I am. That’s something we try to emphasize — get me off the ball and get Sedrick more of a playmaker. He’s used to doing that, and it’s elevated his play a little bit.”
Barefield, a junior who has known Bibbins since their days playing AAU for the Compton Magic (same club, different age groups), shot 28.7 percent from the field and 33.7 percent from 3-point range through the first 18 games of the season as he struggled to adjust to playing without the ball in his hands regularly.
The Utes moved Barefield to the bench for four consecutive games. His game-saving efforts to force overtime and lead the Utes to a road win over Arizona State came after Bibbins fouled out. Barefield scored all 17 of his points in the second half and overtime in a game he didn’t start, but he became the primary ball handler with Bibbins out of the game.
“I think that coach is trusting me a little bit more as I have games where I don’t have as many turnovers,” Barefield said. “When I play aggressive, that’s when I’m at my best, so I think that has a lot to do with it — him trusting me and my teammates trusting me.”
Utes coach Larry Krystkowiak had harped on Barefield’s tendency to use too many dribbles to initiate action earlier this season. Barefield got the message. The coaching staff wanted more straight-line drives and less dancing on the perimeter. In his past five games, Barefield averaged 16.2 points on 25-of-50 shooting (10-of-21 on 3-pointers) over the last five games. He has had one turnover or none in three of them.
Barefield initiating the offense and taking on a larger load as a ball handler serves as an added bonus for Bibbins, who ranks eighth in the conference in minutes per game (33.9). Bibbins expects playing more off the ball and playing zone defense to save wear and tear on his legs during the final month of the regular season.
“We got away from that in the beginning of the year,” Bibbins said. “I was more ball dominant, but at this point, I like him more on the ball at times of the game and get him going and get him flowing. Then I can get off the ball and preserve myself a little bit.”
CALIFORNIA AT UTAH
Tipoff • 7:30 p.m. Saturday
TV • Pac-12 Network
Radio • 700 AM
Records • Cal 8-17, 2-10; Utah 14-9, 6-6
Series history • Cal leads the series 15-14
About the Bears • Coach Wyking Jones took over for Cuonzo Martin in March after having served as an assistant under Martin induringthe 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons. Jones had worked primarily with Cal’s big men while an assistant. … Cal enters Saturday having lost 10 of 11 games after beating Stanford in its Pac-12 opener. … Junior guard Don Coleman leads the team in scoring (16 points per game), while shooting 36 percent from the field and 29 percent from behind the 3-point arc. Cal ranks last in the Pac-12 in points per game (70.3), shooting percentage (42 percent) and 3-point shooting (31 percent).
About the Utes • Utes senior guard Justin Bibbins has averaged 15.6 points per game during Pac-12 Conference play. He also has averaged 5.3 assists per game and a conference-best 3.2 made 3-pointers per game. He has shot 44.7 percent from 3-point range in conference games. … Senior forward David Collette has shot 59.6 percent from the field during Pac-12 play, third-best in the conference behind USC’s Nick Rakocevic and Arizona’s Deandre Ayton. Collette has averaged 12.4 points per game this season and 11.4 points per game in conference games. … The Utes beat Cal 74-44 in Salt Lake City last season. Sedrick Barefield scored a team-high 14 points off the bench.