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What to watch for when Arizona men’s basketball hosts Cal in Pac-12 home opener

arizona-wildcats-mens-basketball-cal-golden-bears-preview-pac12-2022 Photo by Chris Gardner/ Getty Images

Arizona will play its first home game in 17 days when it hosts Cal on Sunday afternoon. Here’s what to watch for when the Wildcats (6-1, 0-1 Pac-12) take on the Golden Bears (0-8, 0-1) at McKale Center:

Bouncing back

Last time out the UA was shocked at Utah, falling behind by as much as 20 in an 81-66 loss. Arizona shot a season-low 35.2 percent, making only 4 of 28 3-pointers, just three days after jumping up to No. 4 in the Associated Press Top 25 thanks to its Maui Invitational title.

As bad as the performance in Salt Lake City was, it does provide the Wildcats with a rare opportunity to show how they respond to defeat. This was only the fifth loss of the Tommy Lloyd era, and just the fourth chance to play after a defeat.

Last season provided a small sample size, and the results were mixed.

After losing at Tennessee right before Christmas, the UA had to wait 12 days before playing its next, a 95-79 home win over Washington that saw it hit 12 3s but turn it over 21 times. After getting thumped at UCLA in late January, the Wildcats came home and remained cold offensively in a 67-56 victory over ASU.

The best post-loss response came after losing at Colorado. Finishing a 3-game road swing, Arizona went to USC and won 91-71 to wrap up the Pac-12 title.

Cal’s collapse

Following the Utah loss, Oumar Ballo said Arizona has to expect that every opponent is going to give the Wildcats their best shot. The Utes certainly did that, so Cal is likely to do the same, right?

Which begs another question: what does the ‘best shot’ of a team off to the worst start in school history?

The Golden Bears have lost 11 straight dating back to March, which included an 89-61 loss at Arizona in then regular-season finale. This season they’ve lost to four teams ranked No. 174 or lower by, three at home, including 74-66 to the Southern team Arizona beat 95-78.

In his fourth season, Mark Fox may not be running Cal much longer. His record is 35-66 with a 15-44 mark in Pac-12 play, losing 66-51 at home to USC on Wednesday.

Arizona has won 11 in a row over Cal, the last eight by an average of 21.3 points. The Golden Bears haven’t won at McKale Center since 2013.

Shot selection

Arizona’s 3-point shooting against Utah wasn’t its worst under Lloyd, that came in January against ASU when it was 3 of 23 (13 percent). But the fact it came in the same game that Ballo and Azuolas Tubelis were 16 of 27 on 2-pointers was more of the issue.

The Wildcats took 39.4 percent of their shots from 3, second-most this season (the Utah Tech game was 40 percent) and tied for 14th-highest the past two seasons.

Lloyd has repeatedly professed his love for 2-point shots, and Arizona leads the nation with a 64.5 percent efficiency inside the arc. The Wildcats are shooting a healthy 38.8 percent from deep, but with the weapons it has on the interior the gameplan on Sunday figures to double down on the paint scoring.

Bench production

The Wildcats have four starters averaging double figures, with Pelle Larsson right behind at 9.9 points per game. But when it comes to their reserves, the scoring has been almost nonexistent.

Since producing 73 points in the first two games, Arizona’s bench has had only 54 the last five including just seven at Utah. Cedric Henderson Jr. has produced 34 of those points, only 10 the last two games.

The trio of Adama Bal, Kylan Boswell and Henri Veesaar have played 266 minutes but made only 19 field goals compared to 21 turnovers. Boswell hasn’t made a shot since the second game of the season, while Bal has made just one in the past five contests.