BERKELEY -- California's much-anticipated matchup against No. 1 Arizona was always going to be about the big men inside. For the Bears, steady forwards Richard Solomon and David Kravish brought the experience and the inside scoring, combining for 23.2 points, 18.2 rebounds, and 3.1 blocks per game. For the Wildcats, superstar freshman Aaron Gordon is up for the Wooden Award, averaging 12 points and 7.9 rebounds while senior Kaleb Tarczewski was averaging 9.2 and 6.4, coming into Saturday's contest.
So while it was senior guard Justin Cobbs who hit the memorable game-winning jump shot with 0.9 seconds left to give Cal a dramatic 60-58 victory -- just three days after missing an open jumper in the final moments against Arizona State -- it was the steady, dominant play of the Cal big men throughout the game that gave them that chance to pull off the upset at the end.
The first half was about the offensive efficiency for the Bears, when the duo of Kravish and Solomon was just far more efficient than Gordon. Utilizing Kravish's midrange jumper and Solomon's dominance feet from the basket, Cal stormed out to a nine-point lead in the first half. The pair shot an efficient 10-for-16 from the field, scoring 20 of the team's 30 first half points, while also grabbing 13 rebounds and recording four blocks.
"I just wanted to go out and play hard," said Solomon, with a smile. "I wanted to play with the mindset that I can't be stopped."
Gordon, meanwhile, struggled with his efficiency, though he still managed to make plays moving the basketball to his teammates to keep the game within reach. Gordon struggled shooting, going 3-for-11 from the floor for 6 points. Two of Gordon's three first half field goals were offensive-rebound put-backs, meaning he was a lousy 1-for-9 trying to generate offense on his own. Gordon still made his mark, grabbing 10 rebounds while recording five assists, but Tarczewski, on the other hand, struggled to execute in the post, going 1-for-4 from the field.
But while Cal's big men dominated the offensive stat sheet, the halftime lead was only 1.
In the second half, the Bears big men stepped up on defense, despite struggling with foul trouble. While Kravish and Solomon only combined to go 3-for-9 for six points and five rebounds, the Bears did a superb job limiting Gordon's effectiveness with the ball. Perhaps as a combination between struggling with his shot, and the Cal defense daring him to move the ball, Gordon only scored two points on 1-for-3 shooting, while only grabbing three rebounds and recording one assist. All in all, Gordon was a nonfactor statistically in the second half.
Where the Bears got burned was in the post defending Tarczewski, who navigated his way four times to the free throw line—most of which came as a result of getting fouled in the post. Tarczewski scored 12 points -- 8-for-8 from the free throw line -- while simultaneously forcing Solomon to the bench for long stretches. Tarczewski's free throw shooting helped bring Arizona back from an eight-point deficit in the second half, and it was his scoring that even helped garner the Wildcats a two-point lead, late in the game.
But in the end, while Tarczewski is the steady force, he is nowhere near the dynamic player that Gordon is. And as a result of Gordon struggling to generate points on the offensive end, the Wildcats struggled with him. Both Solomon and Kravish did just enough offensively and defensively to keep the Wildcats close, before Cobbs took over in the final 10 minutes.
Despite their No. 1 ranking, the Wildcats are a team that relies on their post players doing work. The Bears, on paper, were as good a team down inside that could contest with the Wildcats point-for-point, which they did. On this day, Cal's big men outdueled Arizona's, scoring a combined 26 points on 13-for-25 shooting, with 18 rebounds and an impressive six blocked shots. Tarczewski and Gordon, meanwhile, combined for 26 points on 7-for-22 shooting, with 19 rebounds and only 2 blocks. Cal's big men just barely outdid the Wildcats on the stat sheet, shoot shooting the ball and defending the rim. Combine that with an electric home crowd, clutch play from a senior point guard, and a tough, contested fadeaway jump shot with 0.9 seconds left?
A win over the top team in the country for the first time ever in Haas Pavilion, and the first time in program history since 1994.
ANALYSIS: Bears Go Big
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