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BERKELEY, Calif. — The Runnin' Utes hung on for a critical 63-59 win over Cal (18-2, 9-8) Wednesday night at Haas Pavilion.
Here are the takeaways from the third-straight Utah (20-9, 9-8) victory.
Sophomore Brandon Taylor hit a low point two weeks ago when he missed four free throws in overtime of an eventual four-point loss to No. 3 Arizona.
Taylor found himself in another key free-throw shooting situation against Cal when he was fouled with 1:46 remaining and the game tied at 50.
With another close-game road letdown seeming inevitable, Taylor did what he couldn't against the Wildcats, sunk both freebies to put the Utes on top.
But he wasn't done. After Utah got a big stop on the other end, Taylor squared up and nailed a huge 3-pointer — his third of the night — to make it a five-point game with under a minute remaining. It was the key play that put Utah ahead for good.
Though the big play came on offense, it was the Utah defense that presented the opportunity.
"Stops," Taylor said after the game when the ESPN 700 broadcast team asked what the mindset was down the stretch. "Stops, stops, stops — and then worry about offense. Stops, and then go about our offensive play."
The Utes knocked down their free throws down the stretch to hang on for the win and clinch Utah's first 20-win season since 2009.
Utah's top two average scoring leaders, junior Delon Wright and sophomore Jordan Loveridge, combined to shoot just 6-of-27 on the night against the Golden Bears.
That's not typically a recipe for success for Utah, but Wednesday night Wright and Loveridge got some help. Seven Utes scored six points or more, led by Taylor's 13, to chip in for the win.
Princeton Onwas, Dallin Bachynski, Kenneth Ogbe and even the seldom-used Marko Kovacevic each contributed six points apiece. And even despite the sub-par shooting effort, Wright still tallied 11 points, nine rebounds and four assists, while Loveridge finished with 12 points and six boards.
"Marko and Kenneth came in and gave us a great lift," Utah head coach Larry Krystkowiak told ESPN 700. "We've got enough depth where it's hard to find minutes. As we move forward at this point in the season when it's a bit of a grind, I think it's important to lean on that bench."
With one regular season game remaining, the Utes find themselves in a five-way tie for No. 5 in the Pac-12 Conference standings. They will finish the regular season in Palo Alto, Calif., against Stanford (18-11, 9-8), one of those teams with whom they are tied Saturday afternoon.
Depending on how that game turns out, as well as what happens with the rest of the league, Utah can potentially finish with anywhere from the No. 4 to the No. 9 seed in next week's Pac-12 Tournament in Las Vegas.
If they can beat the Cardinal, the Utes can do no worse than No. 6 in the conference, while a loss at Stanford would leave them no higher than No. 7.
If Utah wins and everything else goes its way as well, it can leap up into that coveted first-round bye position with a No. 4 seed. Otherwise, a No. 6 or a No. 7 seed might be ideal for any team looking to avoid Arizona as long as possible.
That regular-season finale tips off at 12:30 p.m. MT Saturday.
"We know (Stanford) is going to come Saturday prepared," Taylor told ESPN 700. "They're going to give it their all, and we're going to give it our all." Tyson Maddy has covered the University of Utah football and men's basketball teams as a contributing writer for KSL.com Sports since 2011. Follow his Utes coverage on twitter @Tyson_Maddy