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What to watch for when Arizona faces Cal in Berkeley

The Wildcats are on the verge of a 4-0 start in Pac-12 play

NCAA Basketball: Arizona at California Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

The Arizona Wildcats (12-4) will wrap up their Bay Area road trip Saturday with a golden opportunity to begin 4-0 in Pac-12 play. All that stands in their way are the lowly California Golden Bears (5-10), who are still seeking their first conference win.

Tip-off at Haas Pavilion in Berkeley is set for 8:30 p.m. MST on the Pac-12 Networks, and here are some things to watch for:

Avoiding disaster

Cal is not only the worst team in the Pac-12, it’s also one of the worst teams in the entire country, ranking 210th (of 353) by KenPom. The Pac-12 is as weak as its ever been and yet Cal was still outscored by an average of 12.7 points in its first three conference games.

Lose to a team like that and it will be a serious black mark on the Wildcats’ résumé come March, the type of loss that could make or break their at-large candidacy.

So the goal for this game is simple: Just don’t lose. Win by one or win by 100. It doesn’t matter. Just. Don’t. Lose.

The Cal Golen Bears

Cal is missing a D.

The Bears rank 327th (of 353) in defensive efficiency, per KenPom, and their problems don’t end there. Cals ranks 297th and 303rd in offensive and defensive rebounding percentage, respectively, and is one of the youngest teams in college basketball, its roster devoid of any seniors.

Offensively, the Bears are OK, ranking 86th in the country, but their defense just doesn’t give them a chance to compete. They have allowed 80 or more points in six straight games — pretty crazy when you consider they play at a slow pace.

Coleman’s shoulder

Just when it seemed like Arizona point guard Justin Coleman was finding his groove after dislocating his left shoulder, boom, he crashed to the floor and tweaked it in the final seconds against Stanford after taking a hard foul.

It looked bad. Real bad. Coleman was slow to get up, immediately called out of the game and appeared unable to lift his arm as he sat on the bench with his head bowed.

Yet, after the game UA assistant Justin Gainey expressed optimism that Coleman would be good to go for Saturday’s game. It seemed, at least to me, to be an overzealous prediction, but this photo from Thursday’s practice does bode well for Coleman’s status:

via @APlayersProgram

Coleman played 39 minutes against Stanford, a season-high. He looked unbothered by his injury before aggravating it, dropping nine points and four assists, one of his best performances since his explosion at the Maui Invitational.

Giving Coleman a lighter workload Saturday doesn’t seem like the worst idea, and if it happens, expect more minutes for Brandon Williams at the point and a rare appearance by Alex Barcello, who has logged two straight DNP-CDs.

Budding bench

Arizona’s bench has, surprisingly, been a bright spot in Pac-12 play, averaging 23.3 points per game.

Against Utah, it was Ryan Luther and Dylan Smith who shined. Against Stanford, it was Ira Lee, who posted a career-high 12 points after picking up three early fouls. Luther chipped in with 10 points as well.

This UA team needs all hands on deck to be successful this season, but it will be the team to beat in the Pac-12 if its bench continues to play well.

Smith had the best game of his UA career in Berkeley last season, posting 14 points, four rebounds, and three assists while shooting 5 for 5 from the field and 4 for 4 from 3.

Next Emman up

As the bench has soared, Emmanuel Akot has taken a nosedive. The sophomore has scored just two points in 33 minutes over the last two games. Scoring is not the end-all be-all, but Akot has only tallied five rebounds and three assists in the last two games as well, a black hole in Arizona’s starting five.

Perhaps relatedly, Akot only played 13 minutes against Stanford, his lowest since Maui, despite being the lone frontcourt player not in foul trouble.

More like Matt Brad-three

Cal doesn’t have much talent, but here is a well-deserved shoutout to freshman guard Matt Bradley, who is 21-38 (.553) from 3 this year, the fourth-best mark in the entire country. He scored a career-high 19 points against Arizona State on Wednesday.

Paris Austin, a transfer from Boise State, is pretty awesome, too. The diminutive guard from Oakland is leading the Bears in points (14.1) and assists (5.2) this season. However, he has missed the last two games with an ankle sprain.