When the No. 25 Cal men’s basketball team faces No. 18 Arizona on Thursday, the two teams will not just be playing for another conference win. Instead, the matchup will put one team in position to have a very good chance at the Pac-12 regular season title and the other to most likely end the season fourth in the Pac-12, a tougher conference tournament seed.
And when the two match up in Tucson, Arizona, the game will look very little like their first game in Berkeley on Jan. 23, which resulted in a last-minute Bears win, 74-73. But in that game, there was no Tyrone Wallace. And for the Wildcats (22-7, 10-6 Pac-12), there was no freshman guard Allonzo Trier, the squad’s second leading scorer, averaging 15.1 points per game.
So this contest will be perhaps one of the toughest this Cal team (21-8, 11-5) has seen this season, despite going into Thursday with a one-game lead on Arizona. A Pac-12 road game, an area where the Bears only have two wins to five losses so far this year, against the third-highest scoring offense in the Pac-12 and the second-highest scoring defense, only below Cal, puts a challenge in front of this team unlike anything they have seen this year. Add in the fact that the Wildcats have the highest scoring margin in the conference, 12.8, and it truly reflects the potential impact of this contest.
“Very talented team (Arizona),” said Cal head coach Cuonzo Martin. “I think they have the collection, in my opinion, of the best bigs across the board … lot of parts, it will be a great challenge.
With the Bears currently in the midst of seven-game winning streak, the team has finally found the promise that was raved about before the season began. Cal just finished its home games this season with an 18-0 record. And with these wins has come an increase in offensive success, especially from freshman forwards Ivan Rabb and Jaylen Brown. Brown currently leads the team with 15.8 points per game, while Rabb has managed to come on in recent games all over the court, leading the team on the glass with 8.3 rebounds per game. Wallace’s return to the lineup has also added a dominant presence, including scoring 17 points in the win on Feb. 21 against Washington State.
The Wildcats, on the other hand, are coming into the game off a tough loss to now-No. 13 Utah, 70-64. The defeat came despite Trier scoring 23 points in the matchup. But he is not the only WIldcat that the Bears will have to pay attention to. The first time these two teams played, Arizona had five players score at least 10 points. An important point of emphasis in this game for Cal will be stopping the Wildcats from finding offensive success.
The Bears will need to bring out the defense that has left the team as the third-ranked defense in the nation at a two-point field goal percentage of 40.6 percent. Continuing to fight against the potentially difficult Arizona offense will be a big point for Cal.
But instead of looking forward to the implications of what this game could be, things are much simpler for these players.
“It’s just another opportunity to get better, just another game that we play together,” said junior guard Jordan Mathews. “We are looking forward to competing against the Wildcats.”