A spirited Gold Out welcomed the Arizona Wildcats into Haas Pavilion. In stark contrast to the previous game against Stanfurd, this time it was Cal that had the size advantage. In a match-up of polar opposites, would the deep bench and quick athletes from Zona have the edge, or would the Bears be able to impose their will inside?
The two teams revealed their game plans early. Cal tried to work it inside to Kamp and Kravish while the Wildcats looked for jump shots and dribble drives. After some early sparring, it was the senior duo of Harper and Jorge that dominated the action. With Kamp hitting on an array of lefty hooks inside and Jorge scoring at will off flex curls, the Bears steadily built their lead. On the defensive end, the Wildcats looked disjointed and were settling for one and done contested jumpers.
Robert Thurman got some early minutes and made an impact with a couple of nice interior scores. The lead grew as high as 13 as the Bears dominated the glass, executed on offense, and kept Arizona scuffling on offense. But then Jorge had to sit with his second foul at the nine minute mark.
Cue predictable tooth-gnashing Wildcat run. Arizona settled down and gained confidence running their offense for better shots. On defense, Cal's reserves had trouble moving the ball against Zona's quickness. Sloppy turnovers thrown to superior athletes were repeatedly turned into transition scores. The lead evaporated as quickly as dreams of a top 5 recruiting class (too soon?).
With only a two point lead, Monty rolled the dice and put Jorge back in at the four minute mark. He quickly asserted himself offensively, but was unable to play with his characteristic aggression on D. All told, it was a 24-6 run that lead to a 33-28 Wildcat lead with three minutes and change to play. And you had to think that the worse was over...
It wasn't. Arizona suddenly caught fire and started hitting from everywhere. The lead grew to 10 and then disaster struck; Jorge picked up his 3rd foul with just a minute to play on a call that shamed even the notoriously myopic Pac-12 refs.
In a fitting microcosm of the 1st half collapse, Cal blew their final possession on a traveling violation, and then promptly fouled a jump shooter with .3 seconds to play. It was 45-34 Arizona at the half. One can only imagine that Monty brought out the special cattle prods for the halftime talk.
The 2nd half started inauspiciously as more of the same. Sloppy on offense and sluggish on defense, the Bears seemed to have to relation at all to the precise, intense team that had started the game. Arizona continued to feast off transition buckets and dribble penetration for easy scores. As the lead grew to 14, even the most stalwart Cal fan started to have doubts. But then the Bears came alive and used three 3-pt plays including two from Harper Kamp to close the gap to 5. The Wildcats countered with a run of their own. With the Cal defenders struggling to keep the Zona guards out of the lane, the 'Cats slowly re-built their lead. Kamp gamely carried the Bears with clutch defense, rebounding, and scoring, but the deficit widened to 11.
After being stifled by the Wildcats all night long, Crabbe finally broke free to hit five straight. Then Jorge was Jorge and scored four of his own. Moments later, Justin Cobbs had a steal and dunk to tie the game with three minutes to play!
Unfortunately, the Bears were unable to sustain their momentum. Having expended an incredible amount of energy and emotion with little rest during the comeback, the starters were a half-step slow in closing out on a Fogg corner three-pointer. That proved to be the difference as Cal just wasn't able to convert on any of their crunch-time opportunities.
This was a tough one. As athletic as the Wildcats were, this game was there for the taking and it's a shame that Harper's best all-around game of the year comes with a loss.
Once again, our weaknesses were on full display. Inconsistent point-guard play snowballed into offensive stagnation whenever we had to go to our bench. Against quick, athletic teams, we really struggle at times to move the ball on one end and to deny dribble penetration at the other.
It's an absolute tight-rope job that Monty has to toe between riding his starters too hard and dealing with the negative runs that happen whenever he leans too much on his bench. Until we can get more consistent play from our reserves besides Robert Thurman, I'm afraid that games like this will happen again.
Even so, there's no time for spilt milk during conference play. Time to re-group, re-focus, and take out our angst on the Sun Devils.