BERKELEY, Calif. – Go back a week and it looked like California was headed into a stretch of three consecutive road games, starting at Stanford last Saturday, where it could find its footing and reinsert itself as a factor in the Pac-12 race.
So much for that.
Now the Golden Bears are grasping for anything to hang onto, so the possible return of senior guard Brandon Smith seems like as good a place to start as any.
Smith has missed the last six games with a concussion so severe he was unable even to sit on the bench during conference games at UCLA and USC earlier in the month because of bright lights and loud noises that were too much to tolerate.
But Smith was able to go through a non-contact workout Tuesday, and then go through a full practice Wednesday. A Cal Sports Information staffer confirmed that Smith would travel with the team to Salt Lake City, but his availability to play against Utah (5:30 p.m., Pac-12 Network) will not be known until game day.
His presence would give Cal (10-7, 2-3 Pac-12) not only a second reserve guard off the bench, but some welcome options with it. It would provide head coach Mike Montgomery with the ability to get guard Allen Crabbe and Justin Cobbs more rest and to sit Tyrone Wallace when the freshman makes a mistake.
“Right now, he looks like Bob Cousy,” Montgomery said of Smith. “He just gives us flexibility. He’s not going to provide 25 points a game, but the things we need he would really help.”
Smith, who is averaging 3.5 points and 2.5 assists per game in 11 appearances this season, would also offer another defender against the Utes’ emerging freshman guard Brandon Taylor, who broke out for 19 points and six assists in a dominating win at Washington.
“They beat them, they beat them good,” Montgomery said. “They discovered this point guard Taylor. If they have got a better point guard that him, I’d be shocked.”
It was the first road win for Utah (9-9, 1-5 Pac-12) since joining the Pac-12, after narrow losses at Arizona State by one in overtime and at Arizona by three. Those performances, along with a 57-53 loss against UCLA, have Cal players well aware they cannot look past this opposition.
“They are clicking right now,” forward David Kravish said. “Some people might see them as a weaker team, but they have played everybody super tough. You can’t take anybody lightly.
“If you can get into Washington at home, that says something.”
Dan Greenspan writes about the Pac-12 for Fox Sports Next. Follow him on Twitter @DanGreenspan.