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Arizona basketball: Wildcats rise to the challenge, outmuscle a physical Cal team

The Wildcats proved they aren’t limited to being a finesse team

California v Arizona Photo by Chris Coduto/Getty Images

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Sean Miller blasted his team Wednesday for allowing Stanford to generate 17 second-chance points, and they responded Saturday.

Six different Arizona Wildcats had three or more rebounds as they held the California Golden Bears to four second-chance points and outrebounded them 32-24, beating Cal 62-57 to hold their place atop the conference standings.

The Bears entered the game as the Pac-12’s best offensive rebounding team, but they only mustered three offensive rebounds against the Wildcats.

“I’m really proud of our team tonight,” Miller said Saturday. “Stanford was the 10th-best offensive rebounding team in the Pac-12 and they almost had 20 second-chance points against us. We challenged our team. It wasn’t just our big guys, it was everybody. For us to have the difference of a 32-24 rebounding edge…that’s why we won the game.”

Arizona limited Cal forward Ivan Rabb, who was averaging a double-double entering Saturday’s contest, to four points and three rebounds, none of which were of the offensive variety.

“Coach emphasized it all week,” UA guard Kadeem Allen said of Arizona’s defensive rebounding effort. “They’re a good offensive rebounding team and [Rabb is] one of the best players in the country, so we focused a lot on blocking out this weekend. As you know, last week we got outrebounded a little bit, so we just came in and blocked out.”

It was not easy, though.

Miller thought it was the most physical game Arizona has played in all season. He saw it coming, too, which is why he was concerned how his team would fare after their uninspiring performance against Stanford.

Miller said Wednesday that Cal was a team that could “smash [Arizona] all over the floor.”

But it didn’t happen.

“It’s great to see our team rise to the challenge in a big night, in a big moment against a great team,” Miller said. “We did an excellent job with our post trap, I thought our defensive effort level, our defensive rebounding (was good) … so of course I’m very, very happy with our defense. Like I said initially, our players responded and we did a really good job.”

The Bears shot just 43 percent from the field, 6-of-19 from 3, and were held to 16 points in the paint.

“Our defense was terrific. Our defensive rebounding was terrific,” Miller said.

For the second game in a row, Chance Comanche was instrumental in Arizona’s success. The big man tied for the team-high in rebounds (5) in just 17 minutes on the court on Saturday. He also added eight points as Lauri Markkanen was limited to six points and battled foul trouble in the first half.

“He stepped up,” Allen said of Comanche.

Added Miller: “Chance is improving, He had four second shots. The one flurry he had in the second half really shows his talent. He’s been coming on for a long time. He’s a very, very valuable player to our team.”

The key for Comanche and the Wildcats now is consistency. Miller said that if they can outmuscle a notoriously physical team like Cal, they should be able to do the same against other teams.

But that doesn’t always happen as Arizona often plays down to its competition.

That has to change.

“We talked about it after the game,” Miller said. “If you can rise up to the challenge that was presented here tonight, then you can’t drop your effort level when the physical challenge isn’t as imposing, and we’ve done that a little bit.

“I think it’s lesson learned for us. We showed we can do it. Now we have to build on it.”

You can follow this author on Twitter at @RKelapire