The Arizona Wildcats probably should have lost to the California Golden Bears Thursday night. Despite playing at home and despite being one of the best rebounding teams in the conference, the Wildcats lost the rebounding battle 44-31. Cal scored 28 second chance points while Arizona only managed 10. Former Arizona target Ivan Rabb lit up Ryan Anderson (Arizona's best chance at Pac-12 Player of the Year), scoring 15 and grabbing 13 rebounds. And, to top it all off, the Wildcats were down 61-53 with only 1:55 left. Arizona had no business winning this game.
And yet here we are.
With an 11-0 run in the last 1:55, the Wildcats stormed back to beat the Bears 64-61. After going scoreless in the first half, Gabe York came up huge in the second, scoring 19 points and hitting the game-winning three-pointer with 20 seconds to go. It was redemption for York, who has been chastised by Arizona fans for his performance in some late-game situations this season. Without York, the Wildcats don't beat Cal. He came through in the clutch.
York wasn't the only Wildcat who came up big in the win. Kaleb Tarczewski scored 10 points and grabbed 12 rebounds while also racking up fouls on Kameron Rooks, Ivan Rabb, and the rest of the Cal big men. Ryan Anderson also put up big numbers, scoring 18 points and pulling down 10 rebounds, but his defensive struggles and inability to box out Rabb plagued him late in this game. In fact, Sean Miller even pulled Ryan Anderson and put in Mark Tollefsen in an apparent offense/defense substitution in the closing minutes.
A few other thoughts from this game:
- Jaylen Brown plays a lot like Stanley Johnson. And the same way Stanley Johnson racked up offensive fouls because of how physically he played, Jaylen Brown racked up offensive fouls on Thursday. Those offensive fouls cost Cal big, as Brown fouled out (with another offensive foul) with only 32 seconds to go. That meant Cal had to go to Tyrone Wallace for its last possession. That didn't work out too well.
- Somehow, Kadeem Allen - who scored 28+ points per game in junior college - is a much better passer, defender, and rebounder than he is a scorer. Allen was only 2-of-8 from the floor, but racked up six assists and came up with a number of big defensive plays, including a few drawn charges and a couple of blocks. At least one of Allen's blocks was a clear goaltend, but if the ref doesn't call it, is it really goaltending?
- Meanwhile, for the second game in a row, Parker Jackson-Cartwright was a non-factor. PJC played 14 minutes. In that time, he took two shots (scoring two points), grabbed a rebound, turned the ball over once, and was charged with a foul. That's it. Since the ASU game (where PJC played very well), PJC has played 47 minutes. In that time, he has 4 points, 4 assists, 1 rebound, 7 turnovers, and 3 fouls. To top it all off, he's not much of a contributor defensively. If PJC goes back to the PJC we saw flashes of early this year, he can be a valuable player on this team. But if he keeps playing the way he has for the past three games, Sean Miller can't afford to put him on the floor.
- Maybe the story of tonight is how much Sean Miller shortened the bench. The starting five - York, Allonzo Trier, Anderson, Tarczewski, and Allen - all played more than 30 minutes. PJC was the only other player to log more than 10 minutes, and Dusan Ristic, Mark Tollefsen, and Chance Comanche played only briefly. This might be a sign of things to come as the Wildcats approach the Pac-12 Tournament and eventually the NCAA Tournament.
With the win, the Wildcats appear likely to secure a top four seed in the Pac-12 Tournament, which would give them a bye in the first round. More importantly, though, a close win over a tough opponent should give Arizona some momentum heading into the postseason. In a year where no one in the Pac-12 (and no one in all of college basketball, really) has been particularly impressive, Arizona is starting to heat up at the right time.