The Arizona Wildcats hit the road to the Bay Area this week, taking on the California Golden Bears on Wednesday night at 7 p.m. MST.
Arizona enters the game 14-4 overall and 4-1 in Pac-12 play, while Cal is 7-11 and 1-4, respectively.
While the Golden Bears record combined with some awful losses (UC Riverside, Central Arkansas, D2 Chaminade) makes the team look unimposing, it’s a road conference game, so you can’t ever be sure.
Here’s a look at the Cal Bears.
92-82 loss to the Wichita State Shockers in Maui Invitational
74-63 loss to the Saint Mary’s Gaels at home
80-62 loss to the USC Trojans at home
107-84 loss to the UCLA Bruins at home
The story of Cal’s season has been disappointing home losses, as they’re 3-2 in true road games and 4-9 in home and neutral games.
Cal isn’t capable of very much on offense, ranking 220th (of 351) in the country in efficiency, per KenPom.
Cal’s two main strengths are their offensive rebounding and free throw attempts. Cal is 16th in the country in offensive rebounding rate, grabbing 36 percent of their misses. They also get to the line a healthy amount, ranking 26th in free throw rate.
“They’re the best offensive rebounding team in our conference. They play with a lot of energy, they play with two big guys that are great offensive rebounders,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said. “Marcus Lee, a transfer from Kentucky who is older, he’s in his fifth year. And they have a number of younger players who play hard and get second shots. Because of that you foul them a lot.”
Aside from those two things, Cal really struggles.
The Golden Bears’ worst weakness is maybe the worst weakness a team can have: turnovers. Cal turns over the basketball an exorbitant 21.4 percent of possessions, the 298th-worst mark in college basketball.
The Bears can’t shoot, either. They are shooting 34 percent from 3 and 70 percent from the line. And only five teams in college basketball get a lower percentage of their powers from behind the arc than Cal does (20.7).
Only three players on Cal shoots 3s, and one of them is shooting under 30 percent (Don Coleman).
While Cal’s offense doesn’t inspire confidence, the defensive situation isn’t much better.
But what Cal is undoubtedly good at is shot blocking, ranking in the top 25 in shot block percentage. They are also good at generating steals, with a good-not-great steal percentage of 9.4.
“They play with a lot of energy,” Miller said. “They also press, and even when they’re not pressing they’ll turn you over. They’ll steal the ball, they deflect, they shot-block as well as any team in our conference as well. Marcus Lee is a big part of that. And they use those shot-blocks to get out in transition. They play at a pretty fast pace.
“So when you play at a fast pace, you shot block, steal, deflect, have the ability to do that and you’re good on the offensive glass, you can tell they’re a team that plays hard, with a lot of energy. They’re very young, and that doesn’t always work to their advantage and they’re not deep and that doesn’t always work to their advantage. But the players that play, they play really, really hard.”
Cal was a top-20 defensive team last season, but now ranks 201st. They lost four starters from a season ago and even their coach, Cuonzo Martin, who left for Missouri.
Now they are led by one of his assistants, Wyking Jones.
“They play almost a completely different style on defense than they did last year. There’s more full-court pressure, more zone, and they’re mixing their defenses to utilize their quickness,” Miller said. “And they have shot-blocking. I think their defensive style really caters to their qualities.”
Other than that though, the outlook is bleak. Cal is extraordinarily awful at giving up 3-pointers, allowing teams to shoot 38.9 percent from deep range.
In all, teams are shooting 47 percent against them, averaging nearly 1.1 points per possession.
But they will likely play zone against Arizona which can always be an adventure.
California Players to Watch
Don Coleman, Guard, Junior
Coleman has become a major leader on a team desperately in need of one. The upperclassman floor general leads the team with 17.3 points per game, and is probably the most talented Golden Bear on the roster.
Coleman transferred to Berkeley last year as a sophomore, and played mainly as a role player with Jabari Bird still on the roster. Now, he’s the starter and main contributor in the backcourt.
Coleman’s specialty isn’t shooting, as he shoots a pedestrian 36 percent from 2 and 28 percent from 3. However, he’s a capable driver that can get to the rim against weak defenses, like Arizona’s.
If there’s one player that should scare the Cats, it’s a player like Coleman.
Marcus Lee, Forward, Senior
You may remember Lee from his time in Lexington as a role player for Kentucky. He played for the 38-1 team that featured Karl-Anthony Towns and Devin Booker. Now, however, he’s playing for his hometown team in his final year of eligibility.
Lee grew up in Antioch, near Berkeley. After sitting out 2017, he’s finally made an impact for the Bears in his last season of eligibility. He’s averaging 12.2 points and 7.8 rebounds per contest this season, and is Cal’s main post threat.
Lee has the best field goal percentage on the team (58%). That number is obviously helped by playing near the rim, but that’s still impressive compared to his teammates. It’ll be interesting to see Lee match up against the likes of Deandre Ayton and Dusan Ristic.