The boos rained down in Haas Pavilion as the first half ended. The ruckus continued after the buzzer sounded, as Cal coach Mike Montgomery got a few more words in with the referees after 20 minutes of evil stares. It reached a deafening crescendo when the three men in striped shirts finally walked off the court.
But the refs’ halftime exit was not the loudest the gold-clad crowd of 9,690 got on Thursday night. That feat came with 3:40 remaining in the contest, when point guard Justin Cobbs picked Josiah Turner’s pocket and slammed home a dunk to tie the game at 72.
After being up 13, falling behind by 14 and storming back, the Cal men’s basketball team never actually regained the lead.
Cobbs’ layup attempt with 14 seconds remaining was blocked by Nick Johnson, and Arizona only needed one free throw to outlast the Bears, 78-74, ending the Bears’ undefeated record at home and reign atop the Pac-12 standings.
“I think that kind of effort is a losing effort when you give up a lead like that,” said senior forward Harper Kamp of the Wildcats’s 36-12 run to end the first half.
“Teams make runs, but that kind of run, it’s just not acceptable. That’s really what lost the game for us.”
Haas Pavilion bellowed over fouls at the half, but Cal’s sloppy play was of equal fault. The Bears (17-6, 7-3 in the Pac-12) were cruising until Arizona (15-8, 6-4) woke up and scored six in a row to begin its 36-12 streak. Twice a Wildcat defender intercepted a pass from Cal’s point guard to the wing for a fastbreak.
Twenty-two fouls in all were assessed in the half, 11 on each team. Senior guard Jorge Gutierrez picked up his third personal on a double foul while standing in the corner. Backup guard Brandon Smith was called for a foul with 0.3 seconds left on the clock.
The 13-point lead they held midway through the period had vanished, and Cal was looking at an 11-point deficit at halftime.
“In the first half, (Arizona) went 14-for-17,” Montgomery said of one stretch during the period. “They were executing extremely well. I think the physical play threw us off.”
The Bears came roaring back in the second half, though. Cal converted three consecutive three-point plays to narrow the Wildcats’ lead to five. Six points came from Kamp, who notched a team-high 22 points and nine rebounds.
For the next 11 minutes, the Bears inched closer and closer.
Kamp swished a jumper from the top of the key before Gutierrez stripped the ball and Allen Crabbe hit a long three to make it 66-60 with just over seven minutes to go. The sophomore guard then found Gutierrez for a layup, and the senior hit a pair of free throws on the next possession to come within two.
Kyle Fogg answered with a corner 3-pointer — the senior led all scorers with 23 points on five treys — but that didn’t stop Cal’s fury. With a screen to his right, Crabbe drove left for a layup. After getting into a tussle with the Arizona bench, Gutierrez curled around the basket for a layup before Cobbs’ thunderous soar.
Fogg hit another three to give the Wildcats the lead for good. The Bears wouldn’t score another field goal, as Crabbe’s 3-point attempt and Cobbs’ layup were both blocked in the final 30 seconds.
“We fought back, but we shouldn’t have been that far behind,” Montgomery said. “I didn’t think we were the aggressor. We just couldn’t make plays down the stretch.”