California hopes to build upon what is already its best conference start in four years when the Golden Bears visit Utah in Pac-12 action Sunday in Salt Lake City.
Cal (4-4, 1-0 Pac-12) won its conference opener for the first time since 2017 when it surprised Oregon State 73-61 at home on Thursday night behind 25 points from Jordan Shepherd and 20 from Andre Kelly.
The Golden Bears haven't opened Pac-12 play with two straight wins since beating Colorado and Utah at home in January of 2016. Cal went on to make the NCAA Tournament that season but hasn't been back, going a combined 25-67 in conference play before beating the Beavers.
Coach Mark Fox, despite his team's relatively slow start, would like to believe this year will be different.
"We're an improved team," he boasted after Thursday's win. "This is the best team I've had since I've come here (three years ago). I think we've improved in a lot of ways. But I think there's so much room for growth."
Utah (5-2, 0-1) also hasn't been to the NCAA Tournament since 2016. The Utes took a first step toward changing that by opening 5-0, but have since lost to a pair of ranked teams, No. 18 BYU and No. 20 Southern California.
The latter came on the road Wednesday in the Utes' conference opener. Both Gach scored 28 points and David Jenkins Jr. had 21 in the 93-73 defeat.
Utah, which was already without Marco Anthony and Dusan Mahorcic, lost second-leading scorer Branden Carlson to a sprained right ankle against USC.
Coach Craig Smith hopes to get Anthony (ankle) back for the Cal game. At the same time, he warned his healthy players not to get caught up in thinking what playing without Carlson and Mahorcic (knee) might mean.
"Seems to be a theme for us right now," Smith said of the injuries. "We can't worry about what we can't control. And we don't know who is going to be coming back. We are going to have to find a way to defend and rebound with this group we have right now."
--Field Level Media