When the season started, the California Golden Bears were hyped as the team most likely to end the Arizona Wildcats' stronghold on the Pac-12, after Cal brought in a star-studded recruiting class. The media looked forward to Arizona versus California, hoping for a heavyweight fight for Pac-12 supremacy. Now, toward the end of January, those experts have quieted down, with Cal showing some struggles on their way to a 13-6 record.
While Cal might be 13-6, on Saturday night, the Wildcats walked into Haas Pavilion, where the Golden Bears were 12-0 this season. The place was rocking, and the fans were in for a treat, as the heavyweight showdown everyone wanted months ago, is exactly what everyone got. Cal landed just one more punch on Saturday night, walking away with a nail-biting 74-73 victory.
The entire contest was a back-and-forth affair, as evidenced through the first half. Arizona led throughout, but they never led by more than six. Both teams battled it out with Arizona's offensive focus in the paint, as Cal consistently answered with jump shots. The half ended with dueling three pointers by Gabe York and Cal's Jordan Mathews, and Arizona led by two at the break.
The second half began and Cal came out on fire. Arizona, on the other hand, came out confused. Several early turnovers and zero points for the first four minutes of the half gave Cal an edge. The Bears would lead by as much as 9, led by the sharpshooting of Jordan Mathews, who finished with 28 points off the bench with six threes.
Arizona, as their character has shown throughout the year, refused to go away. After a Mathews driving floater, the Wildcats trailed 73-68 with a little over a minute remaining. They answered with a Gabe York three. Then, after switching to a zone defense, Kadeem Allen found himself right in the middle of a passing lane. He would take that for an easy layup to tie the game. After Cal's freshman phenom, Jaylen Brown, made just 1-of-2 free throws, Cal held a 74-73 lead. Gabe York tried to be the hero, but his running jumper clanged off the iron and Cal downed Arizona in a game neither team will forget any time soon.
York shot 6-for-17 Saturday but led the way with 15 points, adding six rebounds. Ryan Anderson contrbuted 14 points and nine rebounds.
A few notes from the game...
- Arizona played a ton of one-on-one basketball. After lighting up the Washington schools last week with 42 total assists in those games, one might expect that to be Arizona's preferred method of scoring without Allonzo Trier. That didn't go down against Cal and it would appear that that's what bit Arizona in the end. The ball stuck a lot and the Wildcats finished with 11 assists and one bucket short of a win.
- Arizona won the rebounding edge which is almost always a safe bet. However, the Wildcats did give up a lot of offensive rebounds, letting Cal have too many second chances, especially with Jordan Mathews on the floor.
- I can try and find negatives all I want about Arizona's performance. But it's pretty amazing what it takes for a Pac-12 team to take out the Wildcats. This is their third conference loss but, in each, Arizona has fought to the very last second and withstood massive runs and fantastic performances from opposing players. Jordan Mathews hung 28 on Arizona tonight. Jaylen Brown got to the basket at will. The officials had whistle-happy moments. But Arizona had a chance to win at the end. They fell short and are now 4-3 in the conference. But it's pretty amazing that they are just a couple plays away from 7-0.
After a tough loss in Haas Pavilion, the Wildcats will be happy to see that their next game is at McKale! They go for their 50th straight home win against the Oregon Ducks on Thursday night.