You have to give Cal credit — now 0-9, the blue and gold have exemplified consistency this season.
The newest team to earn admission to the increasingly diverse club of teams that have beaten Cal is No. 4 Arizona. The Wildcats and Bears sit at opposite ends of the food chain: Arizona is a giant of college basketball and perennial NCAA tournament candidate, whereas Cal is in the midst of the worst-ever start to a season by a Power Five team.
With most Cal fans expecting a blowout loss, with a win out of the question, the Bears raised eyebrows with a surprisingly gutsy performance that, of course, still ended in defeat.
Propelled by junior forward Azuolas Tubelis, Arizona took the lead after three minutes — one it held onto for the remainder of the game. Tubelis looked like he would shut down the gym as he started red-hot, knocking down his first six shots and dazzling as he scored at all three levels. With long-strided drives to the hoop and a deadeye jumpshot, the 6’11” Lithuanian forward outscored the entire Cal team after 10 minutes of play.
But the Bears adjusted, charging freshman forward Grant Newell to cover Tubelis. Newell matched Tubelis’ athleticism to nullify his threat from the wing, forcing Arizona’s talisman to operate from the interior where he could be fouled and more easily double-teamed. Tubelis slowed down as he was forced to post up and score from the foul line.
As Cal’s defense tightened, junior guard Devin Askew started his own clinic on the offensive end. The Texas transfer weaved through the Wildcat defense to create shots, attack the rim and facilitate his teammates. He scored 25, a new career high, to sustain the Cal offense and match Arizona’s pace
“Devin was a great competitor today — very aggressive,” said head coach Mark Fox. “It took him a minute to get comfortable, but I thought he played with great poise and he was a tremendous competitor. He really had a terrific game.”
Cal and Arizona went back and forth in the second half: The Bears remained within striking distance, but the Wildcats were too supremely talented to let their lead slip. The clock waned as the teams exchanged blows, and Arizona finished comfortably enough to win 81-68.
“If you would’ve told me that we would come in here today and score one less field goal than Arizona and make the same number of (three-pointers), we’d take that,” Fox said. “We just got destroyed at the free-throw line, and that really is what separated it.”
For Cal, a 13-point loss to No. 4 Arizona, after its previous defeats to vastly inferior competition, feels like progress. Despite the historically poor start to the season, the Bears’ gritty performance made clear that spirits have not fallen.
“We’ve played really hard, we’re down to eight healthy players and we’ve had some challenges getting enough healthy guys on the court to build a cohesive team,” Fox said. “They’ll keep battling and improving. If we can get healthy, hopefully these lessons will be something we can lean on later.”
With yet another tally in the loss column, Cal now must draw on all the positives it can to prepare for Eastern Washington on Wednesday. The Eagles, fourth in the Big Sky conference, are 3-5 on the season. They have only played one game against Power Five opposition — a 26-point defeat to Washington State, which currently sits at third-to-last in the Pac-12.
Not many winnable games remain: The Bears will need to replicate their Arizona performance Wednesday if they ever hope to grasp the utterly alien concept of victory.