LAS VEGAS (AP) Lorenzo Bonam took the inbound pass and raced up the floor. His team trailing by two, the junior never hesitated, driving hard to the basket.
He scored at the buzzer, giving the Utah Utes a chance to finish off a heavyweight fight with California in the Pac-12 tournament semifinals.
”We talked about 5 seconds being a lot of time, you can go from end to end,” Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak said. ”He’s about as quick a guy there is when he’s going downhill.”
Cal (23-10) and Utah battled through a calculated, slow-paced game before trading baskets in the final minute of regulation.
Jabari Bird put the third-seeded Bears ahead 70-68 on a three-point play with 4.3 seconds left, but Bonam took the inbound pass and raced up the floor for the tying score.
The second-seeded Utes (26-7) took a five-point lead in overtime, but Tyrone Wallace hit a 3-pointer with 7.4 seconds left to pull the Bears within 80-78.
Jordan Loveridge hit two free throws after that, sealing Utah’s spot in Saturday night’s championship game against No. 8 Oregon.
”It’s been a goal of our team to play in that game and I think we’ve taken a step forward,” Krystkowiak said.
Cal had its chances. Bird hit some big shots down the stretch, but the Bears made 3 of 12 shots in overtime to leave their fate in the hands of the NCAA Tournament selection committee.
Wallace led Cal with 26 points.
”We made some plays, but Poeltl made some big plays down the stretch,” Cal coach Cuonzo Martin said. ”He made plays and that’s why he’s the player of the year.”
Utah and Cal played two hard-fought games during the regular season, splitting the two.
The Bears won the first one at home 71-58 behind Ivan Raab’s 19-point, 10-rebound night. The Utes won the second 73-64 in Salt Lake City as Poeltl and Kyle Kuzmacombined for 36 points and 14 rebounds.
Kuzma was the key in Utah’s Pac-12 quarterfinal win over Southern Cal, scoring 23 points on 11-of-12 shooting to end a four-game shooting slump.
Raab was the cornerstone to the Bears’ quarterfinal win over Oregon State, scoring 22 points and grabbing 15 rebounds.
Utah jumped out early in the rubber match, but the Bears answered with a run of their own and the teams traded baskets the rest of the way. Cal led 37-33 behind Wallace’s 13 points.
”Tyrone is a good ball player,” Martin said. ”They were pushing up on Jordan (Mathews) and Jabari, so he had to take those shots.”
The second half turned into a defensive struggle.
The Utes had trouble finishing at the rim and the Bears had trouble everywhere – except for Wallace.
The senior guard didn’t seem to mind having a hand in his face, hitting a pair of 3-pointers to give Cal a seven-point lead with less than 7 minutes to go.
Poeltl kept the Utes in it, repeatedly backing the Bears down to shoot right at the rim.
Bonam picked up the pace, too, after being held to 8 minutes due to foul trouble in the first half.
”I just tried to be more aggressive,” he said.
Utah: Kuzma was limited to five points on 2-of-4 shooting and appeared to be in the coaches’ doghouse after a shaky start to the game. … Poeltl made 10 of 18 shots and had 11 rebounds.
Utah will face No. 8 Oregon in the championship game Saturday night.
Email: [email protected]
Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.