It would be natural for a team to take a game against Cal men’s basketball for granted. A matchup against the least efficient team in the conference, in terms of both offense and defense, should warrant a win for all Pac-12 teams, as it has thus far. But Arizona, which was riding a seven-game losing streak, came into Thursday’s game knowing full well that wins don’t come easy.
With both teams aiming to finally end their respective losing streaks of shame, Cal and Arizona took to the court Thursday evening recognizing that each opponent would bring its best possible game. Ultimately, though, Cal yet again failed to deliver and fell 51-76.
Sophomore Darius McNeill put the Bears on the board first with a clean 3-pointer, but Brandon Randolph and Chase Jeter made jumpers that quickly gave the Wildcats a small lead. Randolph and Jeter would go on to combine for 20 points, but Arizona’s true leader was forward Ryan Luther.
Luther, a transfer from Pittsburgh, ended the night with a career-high 19 points, five rebounds and two assists. The senior was by far Arizona’s most reliable shooter on all regions of the court, shooting 70 percent from the field and 62.5 percent from behind the arc.
Although Luther’s five 3-pointers got the crowd riled up, he was the sole player to consistently knock down shots from deep. Both the Bears and Wildcats were shooting 1-10 from the arc at respective points in the first half.
As Arizona head coach Sean Miller directed his players to take more perimeter shots and navigate about the paint, senior Justin Coleman proved himself the team’s trusty ballhandler.
Able to move the ball with accuracy and precision, Coleman, another transfer in his first season at Arizona, recorded eight assists to combine for 17 over his two most recent games, despite his average of less than four on the season. On top of his offensive movement, Coleman’s defense, particularly his two steals, kept the team energized and in control of the game.
The two teams headed into the locker room with Arizona leading 30-20, and Cal head coach Wyking Jones’ halftime talk didn’t appear to do much good for the Bears, who only scored an abysmal 21 points in the second half.
Holding Cal to its new season low of 51 points, Arizona’s defense inhibited the Bears’ perimeter and 3-point attempts. While sophomore Justice Sueing led Cal with his 18 points, the forward missed all six of his 3-pointers, while McNeill went 1-6 from behind the arc.
With the fourth quarter ticking down, it was clear the Wildcats were not just in a rhythm, but truly jiving to the music they were making.
Although key player Brandon Williams was forced to sit out his sixth consecutive game because of injury, Arizona no longer appeared to be a team falling uncontrollably, but rather one finally regaining its footing.
The Bears’ 21st straight conference loss leaves them still searching for validation of the work and effort they’ve put in over the course of this season, and for many of the starters, the previous one as well.