The final weekend of the regular season is upon us, and the Arizona Wildcats get things started with a home date against the California Golden Bears. When these two teams met in Berkeley, Arizona made a late charge, but the Bears prevailed by a score of 74-73.
A couple of weeks ago, this looked like it would be a game that the Wildcats had the clear advantage. Cal hadn't won a road game, and Arizona was firing on all cylinders. Now, the Bears have two road wins under their belt, and have won seven-straight overall, and the Wildcats have lost two-straight at the wrong time.
Will Arizona be able to hold them off and hang on to a top-three seed in the Pac-12 Tournament? Here's what they will need to do:
Who to Watch:
For this particular game in Tucson, this should start and end with Ivan Rabb. Rabb was essentially down to Arizona and Cal for his college choices, and chose to stay in the Bay Area because it was closer to home, among other things. I don't think the ZonaZoo will make him feel very at home on Thursday night.
The freshman leads his team in rebounds per game (8.3), and also pours in 12.2 points on average. He had ten in the first game against the Wildcats.
That first game was highlighted by a career night from Jordan Mathews. Coming off the bench, Mathews scored 28 of Cal's 74 points, making six of his 12 attempted threes, shooting 10-of-17 overall. The junior guard averages 13 points per game this year, so if he performs anywhere near what his normal is, that should result in a better outcome for Arizona.
What to Watch:
This game is going to come down to who can rebound the ball better. Arizona and California are first and second respectively in the conference in defensive rebounds per game. If guys like Ryan Anderson and Kaleb Tarczewski attack the offensive glass and create some second-chance opportunities, Arizona should be able to win.
The other thing to keep an eye on is Arizona's tenacity. After a tough road trip at Colorado and Utah, this team needs to respond immediately if it has any aspirations in the postseason. The ability to feed off the energy of the home crowd and bring a renewed sense of urgency to the court may be all this team needs before heading into (hopefully) a bunch of neutral court games.
One last thing to watch will be Arizona's perimeter defense. Outside of Mathews, Cal was only 2-for-10 from beyond the arc in the first meeting. This is a favorable matchup for Arizona, and barring a career night from another Golden Bear, this should be one that they can win to try and get back on track before the most important couple of weeks of the season.
The game is scheduled to tip at 7 PM MT on ESPN.