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What to watch when Arizona men’s basketball visits Cal

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The Arizona Wildcats play the second leg of their 3-game road swing through the Golden State on Sunday afternoon when they visit the California Golden Bears in Berkeley.

Third-ranked UA (15-1, 5-0 Pac-12) is coming off a dominant 85-57 win Thursday night at Stanford, increasing its NCAA-leading average win margin to 24.4 points. The Wildcats have won their first five conference matchups by an average of 21.6 points, best since the 1987-88 squad that went to the program’s first Final Four.

Cal (9-9, 2-5) has lost four in a row and has dropped nine straight to the Wildcats, last winning in 2016. The last six meetings have been decided by an average of 17.8 points, with Arizona winning the last three meetings in Berkeley by an average of 19.7 points.

Here’s what to watch for when the UA and Cal get together for some Sunday Funday Pac-12 action:

Azuolas’ availability

As thoroughly enjoyable as Thursday’s result was, the big win was at least partially damped by the loss of Azuolas Tubelis early in the first half to a sprained left ankle. Tubelis, who was combing off a career-high 32 points against Utah, had ice on the ankle after coming back from the locker room before wearing a protective boot for the second half.

Coach Tommy Lloyd did not go into detail on the severity of Tubelis’ injury, which came when his legs were taken out by a Stanford player going for a loose ball, but it didn’t look too significant. Having an extra day to recover improves the chances the 6-foot-11 forward will be able to return without missing any games.

If he can’t, though, Oumar Ballo showed he is capable of filling the void in some fashion. Ballo had a career-high 21 points in just 22 minutes of action, making 7 of 8 shots and 7 of 9 free throws.

“We have a lot of good players that can do a lot of good things,” said Pelle Larsson, who played a UA-high 33 minutes against Stanford. “I think we’ve faced a lot of adversity this season but we’ve responded every single time. So it just feels good to be with these guys.”

With Kim Aiken Jr. still away from the team and Tubelis’ status unknown, Arizona could be facing a 7-man rotation for all or part of a third straight game. And with another game on tap Tuesday at No. 9 UCLA, any chance Lloyd can find to sub in 6-foot-6 freshmen Adama Bal—who played in the first half against Stanford—and Jaylen Nowell can only help against fatigue.

Cleaning up the glass

Stanford became only the second team to outrebound Arizona this season, winning 42-39. That edge didn’t help the Cardinal much, nor did collecting a ridiculous 21 offensive boards, which it only converted into 14 second-chance points.

Cal is near the bottom in the Pac-12 in offensive rebounding percentage, though 6-foot-8 forward Andre Kelly is in the top 10 in that category. Lloyd couldn’t have been happy with all the extra opportunities his team gave up, though having Tubelis and Christian Koloko only play 16 minutes certainly contributed to those numbers.

The 21 offensive rebounds were the most the UA has allowed since a 2016 loss to Colorado in the Pac-12 Tournament. That dropped the Wildcats to ninth in the league in offensive rebounding defense in conference games.

No live ball turnovers

The Wildcats gave it away 14 times against Stanford, which was their fewest in more than a month but still too many considering that represented nearly 24 percent of their possessions ending in a turnover. And eight of those TOs were on steals, giving the Cardinal plenty of chances to score in transition (though they only managed to do so once).

Cal averages less than five steals per game, just 2.6 in Pac-12 play, with guard Jordan Shepherd the only player to average more than one swipe per contest.

For as fast as Arizona plays on offense—it’s tops in the country in average possession length, at 14.4 seconds—making the opponent take longer on the other end as often as possible is also part of the game plan.

Keep pace with the record books

While Arizona is a virtual lock to make the NCAA Tournament, nothing is certain, which means Thursday marked the halfway point of the season in terms of scheduled games (31 in the regular season, one in the Pac-12 tourney).

And halfway home, the Wildcats are on pace to shatter several individual and team season records.

The UA, which leads the nation in assists per game at 21.8, is on pace for 696 and the school record is 677 in 1997-98. That was over 35 games, and if it plays the same number this season it would finish with 763 assists.

Arizona’s 107 blocks through 16 games means the school record of 192 in 1999-2000 (in 34 games) is also likely to be broken, and Koloko (52) is on pace to top Loren Woods’ mark of 202 set in 1999-2000.

Expecting Arizona to maintain its massive average scoring margin is unrealistic, but there’s some leeway to still beat the school record of 20.9 from the 1987-88 squad. And at 88.3 points per game, this team is still within sight of the single-season school mark of 90.8 from 1997-98.

And though their 34.4 percent accuracy is nowhere near the best in school history—that would be the 1987-88 squad’s 48.3 percent—the Wildcats’ 8.2 made 3-pointers per game does make breaking the season 3s record doable. The record is 296, made over 38 games in 2010-11, so a deep run as the same make average could get to that number in 37 games.

Lastly, both Koloko (63.5 percent) and Ballo (61.9) would finish in the top five in school history in field goal percentage if they keep making the close ones. The record is 66.7 percent by Al Fleming in 1973-74.