Cal came out of the gate with the intensity and aggressiveness which were so absent in Arizona's blowout win over the Bears two weeks ago in Tucson. Yet no amount of energy or effort could change the mismatches which have made the Wildcats the Bears nemesis this season. Cal had no answer for Jason Gardner who beat Cal both from behind the three point line as well as off the dribble. Even when Cal was able to slow Gardner down, his junior teammate, Luke Walton proved to be unstoppable. Gardner finished with 25 points while Walton had 20 points to go with 6 assists.
Brian Wethers had perhaps his best night ever in a Cal uniform. He was unstoppable in the first half, commanding constant double teaming and shadowing by Arizona's best defender Salim Stoudamire throughout the 2nd half. Brian finished with 22 points and 7 rebounds after scorching the Cats for 16 first half points. Joe Shipp took advantage of Arizona's extra attention on Wethers to score 15 second half points on his way to 25, many of those coming off tough offensive rebounds down low.
Speaking of rebounds, Cal shot itself in the foot repeatedly allowing Arizona to grab offensive boards on the rare occasions where the Bears defense actually forced the Wildcats to miss a shot (Arizona finished the game shooting 57% from the field). Arizona finished with only 7 offensive rebounds but each one was a momentum killer and kept Cal from establishing any kind of defensive rhythm. Cal kept the game close despite Arizona's hot shooting by hitting the offensive glass equally hard, finishing with 12, of which Shipp accounted for 5.
On paper, Cal would seem to have an obvious advantage down low. Solomon Hughes found his early season form tonight and scored almost at will when he got the ball finishing with 10 points on 5 of 7 shooting to go along with 6 rebounds. But Cal's all Pac 10 freshman twin towers, Jamal Sampson and Amit Tamir struggled tremendously. Tamir had an especially rough game, looking completely out of synch offensively with five turnovers thanks in so small part to some tenacious defense by Luke Walton. Cal's inability to get consistent play in the paint forced the Bears to rely primarily on a smaller lineup which hurt Cal defensively throughout the game.
A telling statistic in the Bears last two losses to Arizona is the turnover margin. Although Cal leads the Pac 10 in this category, Arizona won the turnover battle in Tucson and tonight forced twice as many TOs as it gave up. Cal's defense never caused a hitch in the Wildcats machine like half court offense while Cal in an attempt to play catch up, gave the ball away far too easily far too often.
In the past 24 hours, Cal found and then lost again its touch from behind the three point arc. Last night's hot hands, Ryan Forehan Kelly and Joe Shipp combined to shoot just 1 for 8 from deep while Arizona enjoyed a typically tropical shooting night hitting 42% of their threes. Still, the story of this game was Cal's inability to contain Arizona's two stars. In the second half, each time Cal made a run, Arizona responded by getting the ball to their Mr. Versatile, Luke Walton. When Cal had their smaller lineup on the floor, Walton was matched up primarily against Ryan Forehan Kelly. Cal's defensive player of the year last year gave up too many inches and too many pounds to Walton who scored at will.
Cal should not hang their head for too long after this loss. The Bears will likely receive a 5 or at worse a 6 seed tomorrow when the NCAA announces the pairings for the men's basketball tournament. Cal played its best basketball down the stretch including two solid wins against UCLA and a complete domination of USC, who will play Arizona tomorrow for the Pac 10 tournament championship. Arizona exposes the two weak links in Cal's armor better than any team the Bears have faced all year. Cal's vaunted defense struggles when it faces teams who can really put the ball on the floor and create offensively. Cal's lack of a true power forward is laid bare each and every time Rick Anderson or Luke Walton touches the ball. Arizona's combination of backcourt quickness and frontcourt versatility is rare and Cal is not likely to run into a team with similar strengths early in the tournament.