Right after the tip off of Cal’s game against No. 2 Arizona, Wildcats guard Bennedict Mathurin took a jump ball and raced toward the rim, blowing by the Bears’ Makale Foreman as he fell to the ground and helplessly watched Mathurin get a free lane to the basket.
Cal fell to Arizona, 61-89. From the opening play, it was clear that the blue and gold had a tough battle as McKale Memorial Center was filled and rocking from the opening tip for Arizona’s senior night. With less than 30 minutes left before the game, Cal’s starting point guard Joel Brown was ruled out with a knee injury. Taking his place in the starting lineup was Foreman.
The Bears started the first half just 3-11 from the field, and it didn’t help that the Wildcats could get whatever they wanted from inside, combined with a quick couple of fouls by Bears center Lars Thiemann. Arizona’s opening 16-6 run was punctuated by two dunks by forward Oumar Ballo, who dominated the paint throughout the first half — even when Thiemann’s presence made the Bears’ lineup bigger.
For a few fleeting minutes, it seemed as if Cal would make a run to somehow take a lead. Late in the first half, Thiemann grabbed an offensive rebound from his own miss and kicked it out to Foreman, who drained a wild three as the shot clock expired. That bucket was the first of an 11-2 run for the blue and gold that cut a 38-20 deficit to only 9 points at the half.
It was clear that the Wildcats would not let the Bears get back into the game that easily. Mathurin hit back-to-back 3s at the top of the key to jump-start their offense, as Arizona reestablished a double-digit lead and never looked back, returning to the successful formula of going inside — especially when Thiemann came out of the game. This meant the Bears had to resort to fouling in order to keep the Wildcats from getting easy baskets. As a result, the Bears picked up a whopping 15 fouls in the second half as Arizona got to the free-throw line 19 times.
The main reason for Cal’s loss was its inability to stop Arizona’s elite ball movement that would make the likes of Gregg Popovich smile. Arizona assisted on made shots 17 times, with the majority of them coming from the trio of Mathurin, Dalen Terry and Kerr Kriisa. Justin Kier — the lone senior for the Wildcats — also chipped in three assists of his own. The gaudy assist numbers were in line with how Arizona has played throughout the season, as it ranks No. 1 in the nation with 20.2 assists per game.
If there is one positive Cal can take away from today’s game, it is its performance on the offensive glass, as it grabbed seven offensive rebounds in the game. It was a surprising trend for Cal, given that it ranks last in the Pac-12 in offensive rebounds per game.
With Cal’s loss, all eyes are on how the rest of the seedings for the Pac-12 tournament — held in Las Vegas from March 9-12 — shake out. Cal’s interests will be especially vested in Utah’s game against Colorado later tonight. Depending on whether the Utes lose or win, the Bears will be either the 10th or 11th seed, with their first game of the tournament coming against either the seventh or sixth seed, respectively. While they will not see an opponent of the Wildcats’ caliber, they still have some things to clean up if they want to make a deep run in Sin City.