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What we learned from Arizona’s win at Cal

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Anaheim Dylan became California Dylan

NCAA Basketball: Arizona at California D. Ross Cameron-USA TODAY Sports

A dominant second half propelled the Arizona Wildcats to a 68-52 win over the California Golden Bears on Thursday in Berkeley.

The Wildcats improved to 17-7 overall and 7-4 in the Pac-12. They will now head to Palo Alto to play Stanford on Saturday.

Our recap of Thursday’s win can be found here, Sean Miller’s postgame comments can be found here, and below are some additional takeaways.

Anaheim Dylan is now California Dylan

The legend of Anaheim Dylan was born in late November when he poured in 46 points on 62 percent shooting in three games in the Wooden Legacy tournament, the best stretch of his Arizona career.

But we have to change that moniker to California Dylan for now. He apparently is golden in other parts of the state too.

Smith broke out of his shooting slump in a big way in Berkeley, swishing four second-half 3s to finish with 14 points, his highest scoring total since he had 14 vs. Nebraska-Omaha on Dec. 11.

He entered the night 1 for his last 18 from 3.

“He’s really been struggling with his shot, and when you’re in your last year, you lose to a team like UCLA and you’re not playing well, you can really go south and stay there,” Miller said. “But I thought his three days of practice, he got himself ready to go, he worked extra and he played a terrific game tonight. 4 from 5 from 3 was a big reason that we were able to win the game.”

Miller hinted Tuesday that a starting lineup change could be coming, and he addressed that with Smith before Thursday’s game.

Smith said he was willing to do whatever was best for the team—”it’s about who finishes the game,” he said—but Miller opted to keep him in the lineup anyway. It’s a good thing he did.

“I don’t want Dylan Smith to be the scapegoat because we lost a home and because of his shooting,” Miller said. “You don’t start him tonight, all of a sudden that’s the answer. There’s a reason that Dylan starts, and it’s through his hard work and he’s a two-way player, he gives a lot of hustle and a lot of effort on defensive end, and he did that as well tonight. But I thought he played within himself and his 3-point shooting really broke the game open in the second half.”

Smith all but ended Cal’s comeback bid by drilling back-to-back 3s to put Arizona up 59-43 with 4:35 left.

“I hit a couple shots, finally,” Smith said. “It feels good, but as long as we win I’m happy.”

The jumpers weren’t falling most of the night, but Arizona was able to dominate inside

Before Smith’s outburst, Arizona’s jumpers weren’t falling, going 1 for 7 from 3 in the first half. But unlike the loss to UCLA, the Wildcats had a ton of success inside, shooting 53 percent on 2-pointers and 9 for 15 on layups.

Zeke Nnaji was a force, posting 21 points on 8-of-13 shooting. The Wildcats did not have any difficulty feeding him the ball in a variety of spots, and he got better and better as the game wore on, making six straight shots after starting 2 for 7.

Cal eventually had no choice but to double him, leading to open shots for guys like Smith.

“Zeke, man, he’s one the best freshmen in the country,” Smith said. “It’s always good to get him the ball. So long as we get on the ball, a lot of good stuff happens there. And when he’s posting hard and he plays with energy, we’re a hard team to beat.”

Stone Gettings and Ira Lee scored on the low block a couple of times as well, and Chase Jeter even got in on the fun, dropping in his first basket since Jan. 12, bullying for prime post position before sinking a hook shot.

“Those big guys of Ira Lee, Stone, Zeke, Christian (Koloko), and Chase, it’s one of our team strengths,” Miller said. “We have a lot of different bodies in there, but it’s hard to play everybody and some guys are going to play more than others. But it was good that Chase got a chance to play.

“He’s been able to practice and I almost feel like he’s back to 100 percent now. It’s taken him some time, but that’s why we played him tonight. We have to just continue to build and grow our team.”

Lost the rebounding battle

If there is one negative from this game, it’s that Arizona got outrebounded 37-32 by a Cal team that is not usually strong in that area. Even worse is that it happened on a night when the Bears only shot 38 percent, meaning there were lots of opportunities for the Wildcats to track down missed shots.

The good news is Cal only turned 10 offensive rebounds into two second-chance points.

Baker is human after all

Jemarl Baker Jr. had not committed a turnover in six straight games entering Thursday, but then coughed the ball up twice in as many possessions late in the first half.

First, he had an outlet pass to Gettings intercepted. Then he was called for charging on a perimeter drive, a pretty borderline call.

(The stats say Baker only had one turnover but that’s because the official scorers incorrectly pinned the offensive foul on Max Hazzard. To be fair, seeing Baker turn the ball over was pretty unbelievable.)

Arizona didn’t let Cal control the tempo

This game was slow, but not that slow.

Cal is notorious for burning clock, but this was only the 13th-slowest game it has played in this season (sixth-slowest for Arizona).

“UCLA kind of gave us a feel for how Cal’s gonna play,” Smith said. “They slowed it down, Cal slows it down as well, so we were kind of more prepared for that type of tempo.”

Smith said the Wildcats, who have struggled in slow games this season, focused on defending the scout team for 30 seconds in practice this week.

“It’s different when you have to guard that long every position or almost every possession,” he said.

And because the Wildcats forced 15 turnovers, they were able to get some quick shots in transition—and, for the most part, not the kind of quick shots that are detrimental to the team.

Associate head coach Jack Murphy gave Arizona a B+/A- for its shot selection.

“We weren’t perfect, we missed a couple in the first half where we had the extra pass... but second half, I thought that we really locked in and got good ones,” he said. “And even the ones that we missed in the second half, (like) Zeke’s reverse layup, it’s right at the rim. Josh Green had a great drive and missed a layup late where I think Zeke got the offensive rebound putback. So we had good looks. Nico missed a corner 3 that was absolutely wide open.”

Josh Green got injured, though the nature and severity of it is unclear

Green did not play the final seven minutes of the game. He was shaken up after jumping for a rebound after he missed a layup in transition. The play can be seen below.

It’s tough to tell exactly what happened. The announcer noted that Green was limping, but it also looked like he might have taken a blow to the head.

Miller did not provide an update after the game.

Arizona is tied for first again. Kind of.

Oregon knocked off Colorado in Eugene and ASU beat Stanford in Palo Alto. Combine that with Arizona’s dub in Berkeley, and that means there is now a four-way tie in the loss column for first place.

The updated standings look like this:

  • Colorado (8-4)
  • Oregon (8-4)
  • Arizona (7-4)
  • ASU (7-4)
  • USC (7-5)
  • UCLA (7-5)
  • Stanford (5-6)
  • Oregon State (5-7)
  • Washington State (5-7)
  • Utah (5-7)
  • Cal (4-7)
  • Washington (2-10)