Cal collapses in 2nd half against Arizona

Josh Kahen/Staff

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The third time is not the charm for Cal men’s basketball, as it extends its losing streak to three after a 68-52 loss to Arizona on Thursday night. This is the Bears’ second home defeat in Pac-12 play and the biggest loss in Haas Pavilion this season.

“Hat off to Arizona, they’re a really good team,” said sophomore guard Matt Bradley. “Defensively they’re long, they’re athletic and I had to work hard for everything I did.”

Both teams started off poorly as Cal and Arizona shot 3-8 from the field in the opening minutes. Despite three quick Cal turnovers and over four minutes without a blue and gold basket, the Bears were somehow only down by one possession in the low-scoring game. With just over 11 minutes left in the first half, the score was just 11-8 in favor of the Wildcats.

Cal had done the one thing that it should never do, losing the turnover game 6-1, but a three from Bradley kept the Bears in the game. The leading scorer for the blue and gold had eight of the team’s 13 points with six minutes left in the first half.

Arizona started a turnover streak of their own, but Cal’s poor shooting kept it behind. The Bears were shooting less than 25% from the field before baskets from guard Kareem South and forward Andre Kelly cut the lead to five. A last-minute Arizona basket and an airball on Cal’s last possession sent the Wildcats to the locker room with a 27-20 lead. The 20 points the Bears had at the half is the fewest they have scored in the first period all season.

“For us it starts with defense, we get the stops on defense and it leads to our offense. It gives everyone motivation, it gives everyone that extra drive when we get a stop,” said senior guard Paris Austin. “That’s how we want the game. We want to control our tempo and get the shots we want. It comes down to us getting stops.”

Arizona wasn’t having the best night either as they shot 1-7 from three in the first half. The Wildcats were shooting a better 11-24 overall, however, and had seven different players score a basket. On the other hand, the Bears not named Bradley were shooting 5-17 from the field and 1-5 from three.

Cal started the second half by trading threes with Arizona, before forward Grant Anticevich and Kelly created a 6-0 run for the Bears and got the crowd out of their seats. Not to be outdone, the masses of Wildcat fans in the stands started their own chants as Arizona went on a 12-0 run to push the lead to 13 — the largest of the night so far.

“The hard thing with a team that can score from as many places as Arizona can score is you can’t scheme to stop them all,” said Cal head coach Mark Fox. “They just have so many weapons it’s hard.”

Anticevich, Bradley and Kelly continued to drive to the basket in an attempt to bring the Wildcats within striking distance, but the visiting squad was having none of it. On one possession Arizona blocked three shot attempts from Cal before finally grabbing the rebound. At the other basket, guard Dylan Smith was on fire from three, going 4-4 from deep in the second half. The Bears had no answer.

In the final five minutes the blue and gold collapsed as forward Zeke Nnaji continued to rack up buckets. He finished with 21 points on 8-13 shooting to join guard Nico Mannion and Smith in double-digit scoring for the Wildcats.

“He’s an outstanding player — he’s quick, he’s explosive, he’s long,” Fox said of Nnaji. “We tried several guys on him, we tried some double-teaming with him, but there’s a reason he’s regarded as he is, because he’s hard to stop unless you can match him with an athlete that has similar length.”

By the time the clock expired, Arizona had built a 16-point lead as they defeated Cal 68-52. Bradley was the sole Bear who managed double-digit points with 19 on 7-18 shooting. It seemed like whenever the Wildcats needed a big play, someone was there to step up — but for Cal the call went unanswered.

“Not good enough,” Bradley said of Thursday’s performance. “A lot more room for improvement and we’re going to come back Sunday and show a different effort, a different game.”

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