Cal men’s basketball falls to Arizona in conference finale, 66-54

Karen Chow/File

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It’s fitting that the Cal men’s basketball team’s final regular season game would be riddled with many of the woes that plagued the Bears for the entire year, but it’s also somewhat ironic that Cal played some of its best-looking offense in its ultimate contest. Sadly, though, the latter couldn’t counterbalance the former — and the Bears would ultimately lose to No. 19 Arizona, 66-54.

The Bears (8-23) led the Wildcats (24-7) for just 46 seconds of the first half. Freshman forward Justice Sueing hit a layup to tally the first points by either team — which would be the first of his 17 total in the game — and freshman guard Darius McNeill hit a three to give the Bears a 1-point lead with a little more than 12 minutes to go.

For the majority of the half, though, Cal was playing the catch-up game — a game that it’s all too familiar with.

Despite this continuous deficit, culminating in the Bears finding themselves down by 10 points with 1:10 remaining in the half, they clawed themselves back to within 3 points by halftime, 38-35. The 7-point-run consisted of a layup apiece by Sueing and senior center Marcus Lee, along with a 3-pointer from junior guard Don Coleman.

Sueing’s contribution was unsurprising as he led the Bears in the first half with 10 points on 5 of 8 shooting from the floor. The next two highest scorers for Cal in the first 20 minutes were fellow freshmen McNeill and Juhwan Harris-Dyson, who each contributed 6 points to the Bears’ effort.

Cal’s run at the end of the first half carried over into the second, as the Bears quickly stole the lead from the heavily favored Wildcats. The lead then vacillated between Cal and Arizona, with both teams trading baskets.

The Bears’ motion offense provided more open looks with lots of movement on the perimeter opening up gaps in the middle of the court. Cal’s improved offense also outdid Arizona’s shooting struggles, as the Bears efficiently pushed the ball in transition, earning them open layups and more drive-and-dish opportunities.

The main problem for Cal came in the form of Arizona’s formidable force, forward Deandre Ayton. Offensively, Ayton parked himself near the free throw line, drawing multiple defenders in from Cal’s zone defense and disrupting the Bears’ ability to rotate out to perimeter shooters.

Ayton was Arizona’s main mover and shaker throughout the game, scoring 26 points and grabbing 20 rebounds en route to Arizona’s win, collecting his 21st double-double of his freshman campaign.

Despite the undeniable power of Ayton, the Bears kept the game extremely close for much of the second half until the Wildcats pulled away in the final few minutes, creating a gap that Cal simply could not bridge.

Cal was impeded by the loss of Harris-Dyson when he fouled out on a questionable offensive foul call. After Harris-Dyson’s departure, the Bears scored just 1 point in the last five minutes and 49 seconds of the contest, being outpaced by Arizona on both ends of the court.

While the loss is emblematic of the Bears’ continued struggles throughout this regular season, the score line also provides some deeper insights: Cal’s top two scorers were Sueing and Harris-Dyson, meaning there’s hope for next year wrapped in the disappointment of this one.

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