Cal returns home to save its season against Arizona

Josh Kahen/Staff

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For the second time this season, Cal men’s basketball is returning home after a winless road trip. While the Bears are now 0-10 away from Haas Pavilion this season, they do have an impressive 10-3 record at home. That record will be tested, however, as they host Arizona on Thursday and Arizona State on Sunday.

While both tough losses at Colorado and Utah had the same result, they were far from the same game. Against the Buffaloes, the Bears looked like a complete team that could compete with the best in the Pac-12. When facing the Utes, however, the blue and gold collapsed and had one of their worst games of the season.

Arizona is fresh off an ugly loss as well, after falling to UCLA 65-52 last week. The loss to the then-12-11 Bruins pushed the then-No. 23 Wildcats out of the AP poll Monday morning.

After going 10-3 in its nonconference schedule, Arizona has not met expectations in conference play and has dropped games to Oregon, Oregon State, Arizona State, and UCLA. As a result, it has been in and out of the top 25. On the road this season, the Wildcats have been having the same luck as the Bears, and are 2-4 with their only wins coming against the Washington schools.

Arizona might be faltering at the moment, but it has a lot of potential. Led by the freshman trio of Zeke Nnaji, Nico Mannion and Josh Green, who all average more than 10 points per game, the Wildcats have the 25th highest-scoring offense in the country and the second highest in the conference. Nnaji also hauls in almost nine rebounds per game — a scary stat for the Bears, who have struggled with rebounding all season.

Recent history hasn’t been pleasant for Cal either, with Arizona winning the last seven matchups between the schools and cruising through the last four by double digits. The last time the Bears triumphed over the Wildcats was more than four years ago, in January 2016.

What seemed like a strong start to the Pac-12 season for Cal has quickly taken a turn for the worse. The Bears have lost three of their last four and five of their last seven games. Star sophomore guard Matt Bradley has continued to put up huge numbers, but other contributors have been inconsistent throughout the season. Recently, senior guard Paris Austin put up double-digit scoring in four straight games, but the streak ended when he scored five in Salt Lake City.

In addition to rebounds, the other problem for Cal has been turnovers. When limiting themselves to 10 or fewer turnovers, the Bears are 3-1 in conference; when they turn the ball over more than 10 times, they are 1-5. Many of the turnovers aren’t forced from good defense, but rather sloppy play from Cal — such as bad passes or travels. This far into the season, the Bears need to play a consistent and fundamentally sound 40 minutes without collapsing on offense for them to have any hope of notching a few wins in Las Vegas at the Pac-12 tournament in March.

Although some might not give Cal a shot against Arizona, if the trend of strong home performances continues in the Pac-12, then it could rebound from its disastrous trip to the mountain schools. The Wildcats usually draw a large crowd in Berkeley, and the Bears will need that energy as they work to save their season this week.

Trilok Reddy covers men’s basketball. Contact him at [email protected].