At halftime, it looked like the Cal men’s basketball team had itself a game. The No. 8-seeded Bears trailed No. 1 seed Arizona 33-27, but Cal had managed to keep the game close against the Wildcats, who, with their No. 5 national ranking, are easily considered one of the top college basketball teams.
But once the second half started, Arizona slowly started to build on its lead, increasing it to eight points, then 10, then 12 and finally 22 points as the Wildcats walked away with a 73-51 win over the Bears.
“We battled, they battled,” said Cal head coach Cuonzo Martin. “Thought we did a good job especially in the first half transition defense. Thought we did a good job containing (senior guard T.J.) McConnell. I thought he’s the key to what they do offensively. They made plays. We didn’t get to the free-throw line in the second half. … (We) just came up short.”
In the first half, junior guard Tyrone Wallace carried the Bears, his team-high nine points and three assists helping keep his team close. There were a couple of periods in the middle of the first half where Cal was trailing by just a point, but the Bears were never able to get over the hump to take the lead.
Sophomore guard Jabari Bird said he thought the team just did a good job of battling, as opposed to the two previous games against Arizona, where the Wildcats led at halftime, 29-19 and 48-27, and the games ended 73-50 and 99-60, respectively.
“We went out there, competed, played hard,” Bird said. “We didn’t give up like we did the last game. We weren’t just going to let them come out in this game and step all over us — (we) played with a lot of energy on both ends of the court. We kept it close for a little bit, but they made a run, and we just didn’t answer back.”
Wallace said he thought the team played a really good first half, keeping Arizona off the offensive glass and being patient.
“The second half, not as many shots went down,” Wallace said. “They played good.”
In the second half, things started to fall apart. Arizona’s talent and athleticism proved to be just too much for Cal, and the Wildcats — who will likely be at least a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament — were able to slowly build up an insurmountable lead.
Cal shot itself in the foot with its 14 turnovers, and the Bears’ turnover-to-assist ratio, 14 to 9, certainly left something to be desired. It was really the turnovers that gave the Wildcats the needed baskets to really pull away.
“I think it was more of us breaking down offensively, not executing what we were doing as opposed to what they were doing,” Martin said.
The Bears didn’t see much offensive output from senior forward David Kravish, who finished the game with six points on 3-for-13 shooting. Kravish was coming off an incredible game against Washington State on Wednesday where he had a career- and team-high 25 points. Against Arizona, Kravish only took one shot from the post in the second half.
Martin said he thought Kravish’s lack of scoring came from a tight Arizona defense rather than anything the Bears were doing.
“That’s tough when you don’t establish a post presence,” Martin said. “I thought we did that in the first half.”
Still, Kravish did play a pretty big role defensively, pulling down 12 boards and helping the Bears’ inside-out game. Kravish also created some problems, although not the kind he’d probably like to, when he and Arizona’s Brandon Ashley got into a scuffle and had to be separated by officials and teammates. As such, officials called a double technical.
With the loss to Arizona, the Bears’ future remains in question. The Bears are a longshot for a bid to the National Invitation Tournament, and it’s unclear whether Cal would want to play in the College Basketball Tournament.
When asked, all Martin would say was, “We’ll see, we’ll see, we’ll see.”