Updated at: 01/04/2013 9:37 PM
By LYNN DeBRUIN
(AP) SALT LAKE CITY - Layshia Clerendon scored 18 points, Afure Jemerigbe had 13 and No. 7 California defeated Utah 55-50 in the teams’ Pac-12 opener Friday night.
Brittany Boyd added 11 points to help the Golden Bears (11-1, 1-0) get the program’s 600th victory and gain momentum heading into Sunday’s game at No. 20 Colorado.
Michelle Plouffe scored 16 points to lead Utah (9-3, 0-1), which trailed by 13 points with 6:10 remaining before pulling within three in the closing seconds. Taryn Wicijowski’s jumper with 2 seconds left cut the Utes’ deficit to 53-50, but Jemerigbe was fouled and sank both free throws to seal the win.
Iwalani Rodrigues and Wicijowski had 11 points apiece for Utah.
Plouffe spent the final 10 minutes of the first half in foul trouble. During that time, Cal bumped its lead from one point to 12.
Utah opened the second half on a 9-2 run, with Rachel Messer’s 3-pointer and Plouffe’s three-point play pulling the Utes to 34-29.
Plouffe, who hit her first three shots then missed six straight, hit another 3 to keep Utah within five.
Clerendon and Boyd hit back-to-back 3 pointers and Gennifer Brandon’s short baseline jumper bumped Cal’s lead to 13.
But Plouffe had the Utes within four with a pull-up jumper with 2:34 remaining only to see her team miss two chances to get closer until the very end.
The Bears made 8 of 10 free throws down the stretch to seal the win.
Cal held a 24-16 edge on points in the paint and 8-2 advantage on second-chance points. Utah shot just 36 percent in the game while committing 13 turnovers.
The Golden Bears knew the beginning of Pac-12 play would be tough. After Colorado, they face No. 4 Stanford at home Tuesday followed by a rematch with the Cardinal in Palo Alto the following Sunday. After a home game against USC, they face No. 16 UCLA and a second round of games against Colorado and Utah.
The Bears are off to their best start in program history, their only loss at No. 4 Duke on Dec. 2. They have quality wins over Georgetown and Kansas.
The Utes were scrappy from the beginning and trailed 12-11 when Plouffe picked up her second foul with 9:18 left in the first half.
Cal outscored Utah 20-9 the rest of the half, outhustling the Utes, forcing them into turnovers with their pressure defense and dominating the boards.
At halftime Cal held an 18-8 advantage on points in the pain, 8-0 edge on second-chance points and converted 10 Utah turnovers into 10 points.
By halftime, junior guard Jemerigbe had surpassed her season average (6.9 points) with 11 points on 5-of-6 shooting.
Clarendon also had an 11-point half for Cal.
Early on, Cal looked to be in for a bigger battle.
The Utes held a 7-5 lead as Plouffe scored Utah’s first seven points on 3-for-3 shooting.
The 2012 Canadian Olympian scored in a variety of ways, driving by Brandon, hitting a 3-pointer and stealing the ball in the backcourt and racing the other way for a fast-break layup.
Cal then went on a 7-0 run. Reshanda Gray hit a short jumper, Boyd followed with a steal and three-point play, and Jemerigbe’s driving layup put the Bears up 12-7 lead.
(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)