After beating No. 1 Arizona earlier in the season, the California men's basketball team knew it would have to play a near perfect game to beat the Wildcats again. On Wednesday night in Tucson, the Bears had one of their sloppiest performances this season, easily falling to the Wildcats 87-59, and splitting the season series with the presumptive Pac-12 regular season champions.
Cal (18-10, 9-6 in Pac-12) shot the ball well, but the Bears' continuous turnovers allowed the Wildcats to cruise through most of the game after they took the lead for good with 12 minutes remaining in the first half. In combination with the turnovers, Cal was plagued by poor rebounding and defense, getting outrebounded 42-25, and allowing 15 offensive rebounds for the Wildcats. For much of the game, Arizona had more offensive rebounds than the Bears had total boards. Midway through the first half, the Wildcats held a seven-point lead, having scored seven points on six Cal turnovers while not coughing the ball up once themselves.
Despite the Bears starting quickly, getting four points from Richard Solomon and sprinting out to a 8-2 lead to start the game, their turnovers and lack of rebounding late in the first half were too much to overcome. Both teams shot the ball well, with Cal shooting 51% and Arizona shooting 44%, but Arizona used ten offensive rebounds and nine turnovers to force a 9-0 run and a 10-0 run in the last ten minutes of the first half, giving them a large lead that they never relinquished.
In addition to Justin Cobbs' team high 12 points, Solomon played well early as he led the team in the first ten minutes, scoring six of Cal's first 10 points, before slowing down and finishing the game in foul trouble, with nine points and three fouls. Solomon was one of four Bears to have at least three personal fouls, while Cobbs and assistant coach John Montgomery each added a second-half technical. Cobbs was taken out late in the first half after committing three of his four turnovers on the night. For the first time this season, the fifth-year senior point had more turnovers than he had assists (two).
Solomon's frontcourt partner David Kravish had a below average night after starting with three blocks in the first five minutes, contributing seven points and seven rebounds, well below his season average. Ricky Kreklow added six points, while Tyrone Wallace added nine as Cal only had one scorer in double figures.
The Bears shot 44% from the field and 25% from three, while Arizona was only marginally better, shooting 51% from the field and 38% from three. Arizona won the rebounding battle, 42-25, and the turnover battle, 14-9, which allowed for 13 second-chance points for the Wildcats, to go along with an 11-6 points-off-turnovers margin.
The Wildcats were led by Nick Johnson, who added 22 points and made the difference after scoring only four points in their last match up. He also added five assists and seven rebounds, while big man Kaleb Tarczewski contributed 16 points and three rebounds, and highly touted pro prospect Aaron Gordon added 13 points and four rebounds.
Cal came out of the locker room on fire after the break, going on a 10-0 run to cut the lead to nine, but Arizona was able to batten down the hatches defensively. After that big run put them within striking distance, the Bears proceeded to cool off, as Arizona countered by finishing on a 32-15 run to end the game and win by 28 points.
In the first half Cal's offense was average as they shot 46% from the field, but excess turnovers resulted in a paltry 29 points. On the other bench, the Wildcats didn't fair much better. The Wildcats shot 50% from the field and 37.5% from three, going 3-of-8.
After the initial win over then-No. 1 Arizona, Cal looked like a dangerous tournament team after playing well early in Pac-12 play, but after a disappointing run, the Bears are in trouble going into a critical matchup with Arizona State. If they hope to remain off the bubble for the NCAA Tournament, they will have to regain the form that had them winning in earlier Pac-12 play, and defeat a tough Arizona State team on Saturday at 5 p.m. in Tempe, Ariz.
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