Arizona is bigger, stronger, faster and more explosive. To quote the song by Heatwave, Arizona was “Too Hot To Handle” today for the Golden Bears. Cal played Arizona very tough throughout the entire game and they still found itself lucky to be down by just six points at the half. During the second half, Arizona quickly got a double-digit lead and from there they never looked back.
The fact that Cal kept its nose to the grindstone for 40 minutes is definitely something to be proud of, but, all the same, a loss is a loss, and Cal now awaits to see if they will qualify for the NIT. What’s frustrating is that no matter how hard you play, you can’t make up for having less talent if the team you are facing matches your intensity, and that’s what happened today.
“Competitive game,” said Bears head coach Cuonzo Martin. “We battled. They battled. They played well. Thought we did a good job especially in the first half transition defense. Thought we did a good job containing McConnell. I thought he's the key to what they do offensively. They made plays. We didn't get to the free-throw line in the second half.”
When guys like Stanley Johnson – who scored a game-high 19 points on 8-of-14 shooting and 3-of-5 from three-point range (2-of-3 in the second half) -- and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson play with the level of intensity that they did today, there is no way a team with lesser talent can win. Cal has some talented players like Jabari Bird, Tyrone Wallace and Jordan Mathews, but none of those players have the same abilities as Arizona’s stable, particularly Johnson, who is projected by many to be a top-five pick in the 2015 NBA Draft.
All that Cal can do when it faces a more talented team is to try to outwork them and play harder. Dwight Tarwater certainly did, particularly in the first half, but when he’s matched up with Gabe York or Brandon Ashley, there’s only so much he can do.
“I think we were battling like coach said,” Wallace said following the loss. “When shots went up, we were trying to find bodies and we were doing a good job keeping them off the offensive glass.”
Bird added, “We went out there, competed, played hard. We didn’t give up like we did the last game.”
The Bears learned that when they battle hard for 40 minutes, they can make things interesting and stay in games – that’s been a season-long lesson -- but they also learned, without a shadow of a doubt, that national-seed-level teams like Arizona have extra gears that they just don’t have. Cal got beat by a better team that matched the Bears’ intensity, and the only solution to that problem is recruiting.