It’s hard to say that the blue and gold have enjoyed the start of 2022. Ever since a 74-50 win against Arizona State, Cal has gotten the short end of the stick in the rest of its Pac-12 bouts. And no one has felt the burden of the last five games more than head coach Mark Fox, who was ejected in the first half against the Bears’ latest clunker, a 96-71 loss against the No. 3 Wildcats.
“My frustration has been some things that built up to (this game),” Fox said after the loss. “The official decided, like in third grade, to instigate a staring contest like in third grade. I … got my second technical and put our team in a tough spot, but I’m always gonna fight for our players. I promise you that and, and so, you know, certainly a frustrating day in that area.”
Fox may have fought for his players, but the team as a whole showed very little fight in Sunday’s defeat. Arizona was strong from the get-go, ripping off a 17-5 run in the first seven minutes of action, which culminated in a game-high 29-point lead. Center Christian Koloko was the player of the game for the Wildcats, as he posted a double-double with 19 points to go along with 13 boards.
“They’re really big,” said Cal forward Andre Kelly of Arizona’s interior depth. “You just got to really box out and try to come up with the glass, and they’re doubling pretty hard … it’s hard to simulate that size.”
It’s no secret that it was going to be an uphill battle from Cal’s standpoint. Arizona’s blowout is strikingly reminiscent of its dominant play throughout the season. The Wildcats lead the Pac-12 in scoring margins, with the conference’s best offense and the third-best defense on a points-per-game basis. Their 25-point drubbing wasn’t even the largest margin of victory the Wildcats had in Pac-12 play this season, as Sunday’s margin trailed a 28-point victory they hung on the Cardinal less than a week ago.
Although the Bears cut the lead down to 16 in the second half, it was still a tall task to complete a rally given the early hole they dug themselves into. They shot a paltry 8-31 from the field in the first half. Jordan Shepherd led the Bears with 21 points, but he shot just 7-19 and was the only player to score in double digits. It was a stark contrast to the depth of the third-ranked team in the nation, one that had five players score at least 10 points.
“Well, I would say that if you look at the completeness of their team, with multiple bigs, terrific shooting and outstanding wing depth they are playing like the best team,” Fox said. “ Today was obviously big, but that’s what it has been… just dominant.”
Cal matched Arizona well paint-for-paint, racking up 28 points inside and narrowly trailing Arizona’s 34. It was the 3-point shooting, however, that exposed the difference in the depth of the two teams. While Cal shot a measly 1-5 from downtown in the first half, Arizona, led by guards Bennedict Mathurin and Kerr Kriisa, made nearly 40% of their threes before the first-half buzzer. The team did show improvement in the second half, however, shooting 6-12 from 3-point range. That level of efficiency is something Cal will need to bring with it to Los Angeles when it ends the month with trips to UCLA and USC.
Although Arizona is a team that can potentially win it all come March, the same can’t be said for Cal. The schedule in February lightens up considerably, as the team has no games against teams in the top 25. Still, the Bears will have to go through the City of Angels first and prove they can rise from a new low.
Ali Fazal covers men’s basketball. Contact him at afazaldailycal.org.