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Arizona men’s basketball rebounds from first loss, beats winless but pesky Cal

arizona-wildcats-cal-golden-bears-mens-basketball-recap-highlights-stats-pac12 Photo by Chris Coduto/Getty Images

If there’s ever been a definition of a get-right game, it was supposed to be this one. The fourth-ranked team in the nation, fresh off its first loss of the season, at home against a winless team off to its worst start in school history.

Major blowout, right? Not exactly.

Arizona (7-1, 1-1 Pac-12) controlled throughout but spent most of the second half up only a few possessions before pulling away late to beat Cal 81-68 on Sunday afternoon at McKale Center.

Azuolas Tubelis had 25 points and 12 rebounds, while Oumar Ballo added 17 (on 7-of-10 shooting) along with nine rebounds and four blocks. Cedric Henderson Jr. had 11 and Courtney Ramey 10 for the Wildcats, which shot 49.2 percent from the field but was 4 of 20 from outside.

Combined with its poor perimeter performance in Thursday’s 81-66 loss at Utah, Arizona has missed 40 of 48 3s the past two games.

The UA turned it over a season-low five times and got 15 bench points, its most since the second game of the season, but allowed Cal (0-9, 0-2) to stay in the game most of the second half. The Golden Bears, off to their worst start in school history, have lost 12 in a row.

The UA led 42-33 at halftime, making 13 of 16 2s but only 3 of 10 from outside. The Wildcats came out of the break ice cold, missing 12 of their first 16 shots, and only led 59-52 with 10:51 remaining.

Cal started 11 of 16 from the field in the second half, keeping it within striking distance, but Arizona pulled away down the stretch to make the final score respectable.

Arizona’s offense was back to its crisp and efficient self early on, at least when it stuck to its strength. The Wildcats made 11 of their first 12 2-pointers and led by 15 midway through the first half, but that was followed by a cold stretch that saw the UA go without a field goal for more than four minutes as Cal went on an 11-2 run to get within 34-28.

Tubelis made his first six shots, outscoring Cal 15-10 over the first nine minutes, but ended up 9 of 18 as he missed several layups. The Wildcats were 14 of 22 on layups and 19 of 26 from the foul line, with Ballo going 3 of 10 from the stripe while the rest of the team went 16 of 16.

Arizona returns to action Saturday in Las Vegas against No. 10 Indiana.