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Arizona vs. Cal time, TV, and preview: Wildcats open Pac-12 play against the Golden Bears

The Bears feature one of the nation’s top defenses and a high-scoring trio

NCAA Basketball: California at Arizona Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

After a ten-day break, the Arizona Wildcats will return to action Friday when they open up Pac-12 play against the California Golden Bears in Berkeley, Calif.

The Wildcats made it through non-conference play with an 11-2 record, and capped it off with a 77-46 blowout win over New Mexico on Dec. 20.

Considering Arizona went through much of non-conference play with just seven scholarship players, head coach Sean Miller is happy with where his team at the moment.

Still, he will gladly add another scholarship player to the mix, and it could happen as soon as Friday. Miller said point guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright, who returned to practice Tuesday, could play in a limited capacity against the Golden Bears. Jackson-Cartwright suffered a high ankle sprain on Nov. 30 in a win versus Texas Southern and has not played since, missing Arizona’s last six games.

There is still no update on Allonzo Trier’s status, as the sophomore has missed Arizona’s first 13 games for unspecified reasons.

The Wildcats had a four-day Christmas break from Dec. 21 to Dec. 24 to recover and, for some, to see their family back home. The latter was especially true for Kadeem Allen, who got to spend time with his 3-month-old daughter for the first time.

But that break quickly came to an end and the Wildcats returned to practice on the evening of Christmas Day, returning their focus completely back to the hardwood as Pac-12 play draws near.

Arizona has won its last five games, and ranks as the No. 34 offensive team and No. 18 defensive team in the country, according to Meanwhile, the Wildcats are ranked 18th overall in the latest AP and Coaches Polls.

Cal enters Friday’s game with a 9-3 record, as it dropped its non-conference finale at home to No. 12 Virginia on Dec. 21. That loss snapped the Golden Bears’ 27-game home winning streak at Haas Pavilion.

They’ll look to start a new winning streak Friday against an Arizona team they have beaten twice in the last three years in Berkeley.

Cal has a talented trio in freshman point guard Charlie Moore, sophomore forward Ivan Rabb, and junior guard Jabari Bird.

Moore has been an explosive scorer out of the gate, averaging 16.1 points per game, while shooting 43.3 percent from the field and 42.9 percent from 3. His distributing skills haven’t been as impressive, though, as the 6-foot point guard has the same amount of assists as turnovers (39).

Second on Cal in scoring is Rabb, a former Arizona recruit. The 6-9 forward surprisingly returned to school for a second season, and is averaging 14.6 points and 9.2 rebounds per game. He has hit a bit of a rough patch recently, however, as he’s scored in double figures in just one of Cal’s last six games. Still, he’s a dangerous player that Miller said is particularly tough to guard and game plan for because he is ambidextrous.

Meanwhile, Bird averages 15.7 points per game, plus the Golden Bears have sharpshooter Grant Mullins, who is sinking 41 percent of his 3s this season.

“Offensively, I think they really run things through Ivan Rabb, obviously Moore at the point, they’ve added firepower,” Miller said. “Jabari Bird is an excellent shooter. When he gets going they take on a whole new upside, so I think being aware of his 3-point shooting and his scoring, every team that plays Cal worry about them.”

That being said, the most impressive thing about this Cal team is its defense. The Golden Bears have the sixth-best defense in college basketball, per, as they are holding teams to a 40.4 field goal percentage inside the arc, and a 28.9 percentage outside the arc. They also have a defensive rebounding percentage of 78.3 — the fourth-best rate in college basketball.

“With Cal it starts with defense, they’re a physical, tough-minded, well-coached, disciplined team,” Miller said. “They take great pride in defense, they take great pride in rebounding, getting stops. They play a very rugged, physical man-to-man defense. If you look at their defensive numbers, you can make the case that they’re our conference’s best defensive team at the moment and I think that’s anchored by the size of Kingsley Okoroh and Rabb and Jabari Bird is a big guy….They’re hard to score on.”

Okoroh is a 7-foot-2 big man from England who is averaging 6.8 rebounds and 2.5 blocks in just 23.4 minutes. He and Rabb are make up one of the few frontcourts that can match the size of Arizona’s Dusan Ristic and Lauri Markkanen.

How to watch

Time: 9 p.m. MST


Live stream: WatchESPN

You can follow this author on Twitter at @RKelapire