“I just think they did a great job,” said head coach Cuonzo Martin. “I thought they did a great job of rebounding, taking away passing lanes, especially when Dave went down.”
If there was one area to pinpoint as the most critical for the Bears, it was their lack of frontcourt depth. This need was exemplified in the game against the Wildcats, where center David Kravish quickly picked up two fouls leading to a 19-7 Arizona run, as forward Dwight Tarwater was forced to play down low. Tarwater was dominated by Brandon Ashley and Kaleb Tarczewski in one-on-one matchups, leading to a season-high 21 points for Ashley and 14 points for Tarcezewski.
“Dave wasn’t guarding [Ashley] when Dave was in the game,” Martin said. “I thought Brandon Ashley came out and played aggressive. I thought it was more Brandon Ashley playing well.”
Even worse for the Bears, the recently-little-used Kingsley Okoroh and Roger Moute a Bidias were forced to play fairly heavy minutes to account for foul trouble, and they were further abused by the dominant Wildcat front line that featured five in double-figures.
Early in the first half, when Cal was still in the game, the rebounding matchup was 13-13, but after Kravish exited, Arizona went on a dominant 13-3 rebounding run, leading to a 30-13 scoring run to end the half. Once he returned, Kravish played softly, careful to not pick up another careless foul sending him back to the bench. However, the soft play from the senior big man had little efficiency, as it was impossible to stop Ashley and Tarczewski without getting more physical. Kravish eventually fouled out with 9:10 remaining in the game, but the damage had already been done.
“When you’re talking about the No. 5 team in the country, it’s not just that they’re a good defensive team, a sound defensive team, you have to be able to go inside,” Martin said. “If you’re relying on your perimeter guys and you don’t have the low-post production, low-post scoring, low-post offensive rebounding, That can be tough. When you shoot and you’re one-and-done, you don’t get offensive rebounds. You’re on the defensive, have to get back in transition.”
While Arizona also used numerous mismatches on the perimeter to their advantage, they were able to especially dominate down low, with 42 points coming in the paint.
“I think, because you lose a post presence, against a team like that, that defends as well as they do, you’ve got to have a post presence down there that can be tough for you, because they’ll extend on the perimeter,” said Martin. “I thought it changed the game. When Dave went down, that was a little tough. We could just never get into a real flow.”
This has long been a concern for the Bears coaching staff, who brought along Okoroh from Tennessee for this very reason. However, it just so happens, that two current Cal recruits -- Ivan Rabb and Caleb Swanigan -- would easily fix this problem looking forward to next year. Notably, one of Rabb's five finalists is Arizona.
Both big men are five-star recruits, rated in the top-10 nationally, that have shown tremendous athleticism, and a superior ability to score and defend in the paint. A commitment from one or both would solve many of the issues that are paining this current team.
A commitment from one or both big men would patch up many of Cal’s holes – starting forward Christian Behrens had just five points, and had four fouls -- and send them into next season with very high expectations.
“You’ve got to compete,” Martin said. “You’ve got to compete from start to finish. Shots don’t fall, don’t put your head down. Keep playing.”