When: Thursday, March 5, 6 p.m., PT
Where: McKale Center, Tucson, Ariz.
TV: ESPN (Dave Pasch, Bill Walton)
Radio: KSFO 560 AM/TuneIn (Todd McKim, Jay John)
BERKELEY – The last time the California men’s basketball team met Arizona and Arizona State -- in Berkeley -- it didn’t end well for the Bears. Two losses by a combined 58 points extended Cal’s losing streak to six, as the Bears’ season hit its nadir.
However, this Thursday at 6 p.m. Pacific, the Cal will visit the No. 5 Wildcats (26-3, 14-2 in Pac-12) on a quest for redemption. With the Bears’ only big win in the season thus far coming against then-No. 24 Syracuse, Cal (17-12, 7-9) looks to add a true statement win to what can only be described as a roller coaster season.
“The goal is to win the game,” said head coach Cuonzo Martin. “The most important game is the Arizona game because that’s the one that presents itself [first]. I think you take the next game when it presents itself but right now it’s the Arizona game. It’s just doing everything we’ve talked about at the level we need to do it at on a consistent basis from start to finish of game.”
This road trip (finishing with the Sun Devils on Saturday in Tempe at 11: 30 a.m. Pacific) represents the last two games of the regular season before Cal heads to Las Vegas for the Pac-12 Tournament – the Bears’ last shot at getting a bid to the Big Dance. In a Senior Day win against Oregon State, four Cal players scored in double figures as the Bears fired on all cylinders, downing the visiting Beavers 73-56, led by center David Kravish’s 13-point, 13-rebound double-double, and a crucial 18-0 run.
Cal has been further buoyed of late by the resurgence of former McDonalds All-American Jabari Bird, who seems to have returned to his old self after missing 10 games with a stress fracture in his foot. He’s scored double-digit points in three out of the last four games including 22 against Oregon and 14 against Oregon State.
“I think he’s just getting his legs under him,” said Martin. “I think he’s playing better now then before he was injured. [He’s] being aggressive on both ends of the floor – going and getting big rebounds and attacking off the dribble. It looks like he’s a little quicker with his movements and I think those are the things that really helps him because he has obviously a great shot. He’s able to put the ball on the floor, score it around the rim, post up a little bit, but I just think he’s more active and playing with a high level of confidence.”
The Bears will face a tough Arizona team that is stacked at all five positions, but is led by freshman Stanley Johnson, who dominated the last time these two teams met by scoring 18 and adding nine rebounds. Backup center Dusan Ristic also gave Cal fits, as he added a then-season-high of 12 points.
“We don’t really try to change our game plan that much,” said sophomore guard Jordan Mathews, who leads the Pac-12 in three point shooting at a 45.1% clip. “We obviously have to adjust but we have to focus on what we do as a team like help and recover. We’re not going to worry about how this guy does this, we’re just going to go out there and do what we do defensively, the stuff we’ve worked on since October.”
This road trip will likely solidify the team’s place as either a CBI or NIT team, unless they can figure out a way to upset the Pac-12 Tournament, however neither Martin nor the players are worried about the postseason.
“The most important thing is the next game,” said Martin. “I allow you guys (the press) to do that, and you tell me about it.”