Cal men’s basketball tasked with stopping Arizona, Deandre Ayton

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Sometimes, like an infection contained to one specific section of the body, a basketball team’s problems are easy to diagnose and treat. Other times, however, a team’s problems are so widespread that it can be difficult to ascertain where to begin treatment. Such is the case with the Cal men’s basketball team (7-11, 1-4), which is currently riding a four-game losing streak due to issues on both ends of the court.

Coming up with a comprehensive and effective healthcare plan, however, will be difficult, as the Bears are set to play No. 14 Arizona (14-4, 4-1) on Wednesday evening at Haas Pavilion.

It has not only been Cal’s offense that has been unable to catch fire, but also a defense that has been unable to stop other teams from racking up the points. Since their last win against the Cardinal more than two weeks ago, the Bears have averaged 63.8 points per game. Their opponents, in that same stretch, have averaged 82.8 per game.

That is not to say that the Bears don’t have the pieces capable of stringing together wins. Cal’s two big men — seniors Marcus Lee and Kingsley Okoroh — can size up opponents down low and snag rebounds on both ends of the court.

The Bears also possess a slew of guards, all of whom have shown that they are capable of stuffing the stat sheet. Junior Don Coleman, who averaged 28 points in the first four games of the season, has been markedly absent from Cal’s offense, averaging just 8.5 points per game in the Bears’ past four losses. Coleman is going to have to reignite some of his early-season fire if Cal wants to get back into the win column.

Coleman is joined in the starting five by freshman Justice Sueing, who has lead the team in scoring in its last four games and has emerged as a star on the squad, with further offensive contributions coming from fellow freshmen Darius McNeill and Juhwan Harris-Dyson. These three freshmen, however, have rarely all made large scoring contributions at the same time — a combination that should ideally increase the Bears’ chances of increasing their wins.

Cal will have to improve in nearly all of those facets to beat an Arizona squad that has won 11 of its past 12 matchups. During that stretch, the Wildcats have recorded 82.9 points per game, with the majority of their scoring generated by freshman forward Deandre Ayton, junior guard Allonzo Trier and senior center Dusan Ristic.

Ayton, however, is Arizona’s lethal weapon and the potential No. 1 pick in next year’s draft. Standing at 7’1”, his ability to finish both down low and outside is every defender’s nightmare. Not only is he putting up obscene numbers on the offensive end — the Wildcat is averaging 25.2 points per 40 minutes —  he’s also averaging 11.3 rebounds per game, making him dangerous in nearly every area of the court. It might be in the Bears’ best interest to simply let Ayton do his work while shutting down the rest of the team — after all, Ayton can’t beat Cal on his own.

The Bears have not faced a top-25 team in weeks, so it should be interesting to see how they fare against the Wildcats at home. While some would say Cal is sure to lose this matchup, the Bears have historically upped their game against high-caliber opponents, and that could be the case again.

Sophie Goethals covers men’s basketball. Contact her at [email protected]