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Previewing Cal MBB at Arizona

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While you’re here, let’s take a trip down memory lane.

NCAA Basketball: UCLA at California
Matt Bradley and the Bears will face Arizona in Tucson on Thursday.
John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

Chances are, you are a hardy fan of the California Golden Bears men’s hoops program if you’re still reading these previews. Over their last three matchups, Cal has been defeated after a late offensive foul call, fallen in overtime, and gotten blown out. In other words, more of the same in a singularly frustrating season that has the 5-20 Bears looking for their first conference victory. It’s time to discuss this Thursday’s away game against the Arizona Wildcats. However, I am also going to revisit some of my favorite games from 2013-2016, including two wins against U of A, because we could all use some comfort food right now.

February 21, 2013

The Bears won several memorable games in 2012-13 en route to a 21-12 record. The wackiest might have been a defensive slog that resulted in a 48-46 Cal triumph in Oregon’s own building. In the end, Justin Cobbs was the big hero, nailing a shot with 0.7 seconds remaining to stun the crowd.

February 1, 2014

Here’s another high point in the career of Cobbs. Arizona was #1 in the country with a gaudy 21-0 record coming into Haas Pavilion, but the Cal guard broke the Wildcats’ hearts with just 0.9 ticks on the clock.

February 5, 2015

These days Tyrone Wallace is a reserve guard for the Los Angeles Clippers, but in 2014-15 he had one of the most memorable Cal buzzer beaters in recent memory. The final sequence began with a missed free throw by USC’s Jordan McLaughlin. David Kravish pulled down the rebound and found Wallace for a last-second three-pointer. Final score at Haas: Cal 70, USC 69.

January 23, 2016

Jordan Mathews shot 6-12 from three-point range on his way to 28 points and a late Jaylen Brown free throw proved to be the difference as Cal edged Arizona 74-73. Gabe York couldn’t convert the final possession and the Haas Pavilion crowd stormed the court.

February 2, 2017

Charlie Moore had the chance to potentially seal the game in regulation but could only hit one of two free throws. That set the stage for Utah’s Kyle Kuzma to make a layup at the end of the first overtime to set up a second. Jabari Bird took over during double overtime by scoring 10 points and Cal downed the Utes 77-75 in a marathon.

Now, to the game at hand. Arizona has been in the midst of an NCAA probe and their former coach Lute Olson is in recovery after a recent stroke. On the court, the Wildcats are certainly having a down year relative to expectations with a 5-8 conference record and 14-12 overall. That won’t stop them from being heavy favorites on their home court as they face the Bears. As current head coach Sean Miller put it, “It just takes that one game” for his squad to flip a switch and make a late-season run. Still, Ken Pomeroy ranks Arizona 88th nationally as of this writing and they are a long shot to make the NCAA Tournament.

Arizona Wildcats

Projected lineup

#4 Chase Jeter - 6’10” Jr C - 11.5 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 0.6 bpg

Jeter feasted at Haas Pavilion on January 12 with 23 points and 9 boards. He’s a solid overall contributor, but that game remains his season high in terms of scoring.

#10 Ryan Luther - 6’9” Sr F - 7.9 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 1.1 apg

Luther is a reliable defender and has collected four steals in his last couple of appearances. The grad transfer formerly of Pitt has also caught fire from three-point range.

#3 Dylan Smith - 6’5” Jr G - 7.2 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 1.0 apg

Arizona may be stuck in a seven game losing streak, but Smith has acquitted himself nicely with 42 points over his last three starts.

#5 Brandon Randolph - 6’6” So G - 13.4 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 1.1 apg

Randolph is from Yonkers, NY which is a city I visited often while growing up. He has shot very poorly in conference play and dropped to 38% on field goals, which is where he finished in 2017-18.

#12 Justin Coleman - 5’10” Sr G - 9.2 ppg, 2.1 rpg, 3.7 apg

Coleman dished out 9 assists in the recent loss to Colorado but was held without a field goal. The well-traveled point guard previously played for Alabama and Samford.

Key reserves

#11 Ira Lee - 6’7” So F - 6.1 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 0.8 bpg

Lee provides rebounding off the bench to go with surprisingly effective shooting. He averages just 4.3 shot attempts but has made nearly 56% of them.

#1 Devonaire Doutrive - 6’5” Fr G - 2.9 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 0.7 apg

If nothing else, Doutrive wins the contest for best name on the roster. He accomplished a surprising double-double against Washington State in only 19 minutes of action.

#23 Alex Barcello - 6’2” So G - 3.4 ppg, 0.9 rpg, 0.5 apg

Hailing from nearby Chandler, Arizona, Barcello scored 12 against Utah last Thursday, However, Miller deployed him for just seven minutes against the Buffs.

Winning strategies

1 . Grab takeaways.

At this point in the season, one of Cal’s few strengths has been generating turnovers. The Bears have a 7.1% steal rate which is 18th in Division I. Forcing the Wildcats to have empty trips up the court is one way to negate Cal’s trend of a high field goal percentage allowed.

2. Get Justice.

For a Cal team that has performed this poorly, I legitimately think there are some solid players with multiple seasons remaining. For example, sophomore wing Justice Sueing has gotten to double figures in his last seven games, including a whopping 27 points the last time he faced Arizona. Sueing will need another big one to get it done in Tucson.

3. Don’t settle.

The Golden Bears make close to 74% of their free throws which is a huge improvement over last season’s 68%. So far, about 21% of their points have come at the foul line which is a decent rate. There’s no reason not to drive to the hoop if open looks aren’t available.

4. Avoid isolation.

Only 44% of Cal’s field goals are assisted, which is close to the worst mark in D1. Basically, there is not enough ball movement going on. It may be a difficult trend to reverse at this juncture, but getting everyone involved in the offense is a really important goal for this team.

Meaningless prediction: Arizona 75, Cal 68

Not to spoil anyone’s mood, but Pomeroy thinks that Cal has just a 9% shot at victory. The game will be televised on Fox Sports 1 (and the Fox Sports Go app where applicable) on Thursday, February 21 at 6:00 PM PT. The KGO 810 AM stream is available on TuneIn radio.

Go Bears!