The Arizona Wildcats (14-4, 4-1 Pac-12) have experienced their fair share of ups and downs this season. It would appear they’ve recovered from their latest “down,” a loss at Colorado a week and a half ago.
Arizona took back their momentum with a fantastic defensive effort in a win over Oregon State and an equally impressive offensive effort in a 90-83 win over Oregon this past Saturday.
Now the Wildcats head back out on the road in for a trip to the Bay Area that’s hardly ever easy.
Awaiting Arizona on Wednesday night are the California Golden Bears (7-11, 1-4) and as difficult as this road trip has proven to be in the past, this could very well be the perfect time to play Cal.
The Golden Bears, under first-year head coach Wyking Jones, won their conference opener on the road over their rival, Stanford. But they have since dropped four in a row, all by double-digits, including a 25-point loss this past Saturday to a Washington State team that had yet to win a conference game.
That blowout loss was added to a list of lopsided losses Cal has suffered this year. They’ve now lost by 20-plus five times this season with some of those coming to the likes of Chaminade, Central Arkansas and Portland State.
It’s a down year for Cal but no Pac-12 road trip should be underestimated. The Wildcats found that out the hard way on their last road excursion. So what will it take for Arizona to avoid the upset? Here are three keys to a Wildcat win on Wednesday night:
No second chances
While it’s been an ugly season in Berkeley thus far, Cal does find themselves toward the top of the country in one category — offensive rebounds.
The Golden Bears pull down over 11 per game, ranking in the top 20 in the country. This is thanks to a pair of bigs inside that compare nicely to Arizona’s twin towers.
Both seniors, Marcus Lee (measuring at 6’11”) and Kingsley Okoroh (7’1”) combine for about 13 rebounds and four blocks per game. Their presence in the middle helps the Golden Bears in a big way on the offensive glass and has kept Cal in a few games that could have been added to their list of blowout losses.
Arizona obviously has the personnel to deal with the Golden Bear bigs on the glass. Deandre Ayton and Dusan Ristic combine for nearly 18 rebounds per game and the Wildcats have a good habit of outrebounding their opponent, doing so 13 times in 18 games. Arizona has only allowed double-digit offensive rebounds three times this season with the last one being their meeting with Arizona State.
California is not a good shooting team, shooting just 43.6 percent from the floor. Their best scorer, Don Coleman, who is averaging 17.6 points per game, shoots just 36 percent from the field. If the Wildcats are aggressive on the defensive glass, they could take away Cal’s only hope of staying in the game.
While always a basic key to offensive success, ball movement is the thing that can expose Cal’s defense and help Arizona cruise to a win.
The Golden Bears allow more assists per game than any other major conference team in the country and rank 333rd out of 351 schools. Cal surrenders 16.8 assists per game and it’s been especially bad in Pac-12 play, giving up 20-plus assists in three of their last four.
Despite having a myriad of skilled one-on-one players, spreading the ball around and scoring has been a strength for Arizona. They average 15.8 assists per game, good for second in the Pac-12 behind USC.
The Wildcats’ best bets will likely be to drive and kick out to shooters or pass it inside to collapse the defense and then throw it out to a shooter. Few teams in the country have given up more 3-pointers than Cal and Arizona can expose that with smart passing and the spot-up shooting of Allonzo Trier, Rawle Alkins and Parker Jackson-Cartwright.
If Arizona can take a bit of emphasis off a one-on-one attack and focus more on making the extra pass, opportunities will be there against a porous Golden Bears defense.
Don’t Fear Haas
Haas Pavilion has not been an easy place to play for the Arizona Wildcats under Sean Miller with many of their games coming down to the wire.
Cal blew out the Wildcats back in 2010 and Arizona returned the favor in 2015. But the other five times Miller’s ‘Cats have played inside Haas Pavilion have all been decided by five points or less, including a triple-overtime win, a buzzer-beating loss and a one-point heartbreaker in 2016.
But these Golden Bears have seriously struggled this season, even at home. Cal’s last home win came on Dec. 16 when they needed overtime to put away Cal State Fullerton. Since then, Cal has lost three straight home games by a combined 66 points to Portland State, USC and UCLA.
Losses in Haas are freshly on the mind of Wildcats’ fans as the Golden Bears student section stormed the court in both 2014 and 2016. A few of the players on this year’s Arizona squad were there to experience that 2016 loss.
However, Cal is reeling, Arizona is trending up and most of these Wildcats don’t know the first thing about losing in Berkeley. Arizona should be too talented for the Golden Bears on Wednesday night. They just need to come in and take care of business on Wednesday night. But if they come out flat and let that crowd start rocking, the ‘Cats could suffer a new nightmare in a house of horrors.