What do you say about an old-fashioned butt kicking? What insights are there to glean from a game like this? Cal is an NIT bubble team, Arizona is a legit Final Four contender. We knew this before the game, and we knew it afterwards. In nine months, both teams will be very different - Cal by necessity, Arizona by the natural entropy of one and done powerhouses. In the here and now, this game doesn't really matter much for either side, assuming it goes as expected. Boy, did it.
Offensively, Cal wasn't too far off from what I expected prior to the game. As expected, Cal struggled to get decent looks and knock down difficult shots, but 60 points is actually the most points Arizona has allowed at home this year in Pac-12 play (because this game was oddly fast paced, but still!). Hell, Cal actually scored right with the Wildcats for a solid 5 minutes, which was fun.
No, this game was a blowout because Arizona's offense simply toyed with Cal defenders for 40 minutes. Cal happens to have a few players who maybe aren't super athletic, and against pretty much every team in the conference (even Utah!) Cal can hide them. But Arizona starts three dudes expected to be drafted this year if they declare, and it's not like Brandon Ashley is some sort of slouch either. Cal tried to hide their weaker defenders against him in the first half and he scored 15 points. Arizona makes you pick your poison and they're all cyanide.
So which example of Arizona physical dominance do you want to hold up as the example that sums up the game? Was it Brandon Ashley blowing by Dwight Tarwater? How about Sam Singer getting spun around by Rondae Hollis-Jefferson? There were plenty of examples. Arizona ended up scoring 1.29 points/possession, which is the most Cal has allowed this season and the 2nd most Arizona has scored this season. From Arizona's perspective, it was the perfect storm of a great team, playing at home, and peaking at the right time.
Whatever chance Cal had of being competitive was dashed early. David Kravish played a solid game when he was on the court. He wasn't on the court much, picking up 5 fouls in just 17 minutes. Whenever he went to the bench, the undersized Bears had to play even smaller, and it showed. For all of the promise Kingsley Okoroh has shown this year, he's not ready against a team like Arizona. He and Dwight Tarwater had to resort to plenty of fouling to try to keep up. In all, Cal's power forwards and centers collected 16 fouls in 72 minutes of court time. It was ugly.
Reef has talked a lot this year about how Cuonzo managed to coax decent defensive performance out of a roster that wasn't necessarily conducive to his style of defense. Thursday night was a stark reminder that Cal will need to recruit better for defensive reasons as much as offensive reasons, because there's no defensive scheme that exists to counter the talent and execution that Arizona showed last night - except equal talent.
Individual player thoughts:
- Sam Singer was the closest thing to a bright spot, and probably Cal's best player, with a solid offensive game of attacking basketball.
- Tyrone Wallace was able to get the shots he always does, even against Arizona. Think about how much fun he could be next year if Cal could surround him with enough offensive threats that opponents have to always account for.
- Christian Behrens worked really hard on the glass, and was also the only Cal big that was able to play minutes without constantly fouling.
- Speaking of fouling - if Cuonzo and staff can teach Kingsley how to play defense and rebound without fouling, they will have made a very significant contribution to Cal's chances next year.
No use dwelling on this one - the margin was worse than expected but ultimately still the same L that everybody else who visited Tucson got this year.
If you care about such things, a Cal win this weekend against the Sun Devils would throw Cal into a tie with Oregon State, Arizona State and maybe Colorado at 8-10. I actually think the tie-breaker would fall in Cal's favor for the 6 seed in the conference tournament, but I'm certainly not sure and it probably isn't especially important anyway.
Of much more importance is trying to close out the season on a positive note. A win over Arizona State would go a long way towards that goal, and would also give Cal a better shot at an NIT bid and a few more days of practice. Hey, I'll take it.