This was the game people pointed to as the most likely stumbling block on No. 1 Arizona’s path to an undefeated regular season. The Wildcats very nearly cleared it. Guard Justin Cobbs made sure they wouldn’t by delivering a game-winning fadeaway jumper from 16 feet with one second left to send the Cal students at Haas Pavilion rushing onto the court and give the Bears a two-point win.
Arizona shot just 32.3 percent from the field and 18.2 percent from three-point range. Its leading scorer and national player of the year candidate, Nick Johnson, committed five turnovers and finished with just four points on 1-of-14 shooting. It played almost the entire game without sophomore forward Brandon Ashley, who suffered a foot injury and, according reports, may be lost for the season. Ashley was last seen exiting the locker room on crutches.
Brandon Ashley leaving the locker room on crutches pic.twitter.com/ZRLchNH1y1
— DailyWildcatHoops (@WildcatHoops) February 2, 2014
Arizona coach Sean Miller said on his radio show PF Brandon Ashley might be lost for the year. Thinks foot is broken, depends on severity.
— Michael DeCourcy (@tsnmike) February 2, 2014
That Arizona was still in position to win this game speaks to how good the Wildcats are. It was unreasonable to expect this team to finish the season without a loss. Arizona, for all its strengths, is not flawless. Put the Wildcats in a raucous environment against a tough opponent, and they’re beatable. Cal proved that tonight.
But maybe losing was the best thing that could have happened to Arizona. Carrying an undefeated record around is a heavy burden, after all. Now that it can’t happen, Arizona won’t have to answer questions about the specter of perfection every time it plays. And besides, most observers expected Arizona to lose eventually.
Cal had lost its three previous games entering Saturday. This is far and away its best win of the season – and one of the best any team in any conference can lay claim to. Cobbs paced the Bears with 19 points, while forwards Richard Solomon and David Kravish combined for 26 and 19 rebounds. Guard Tyrone Wallace had 11 points on 3-of-5 shooting. As resumé wins go, picking off undefeated No. 1 is about as good as it gets.
This season was the first time since 1976 that three Division I teams entered February with undefeated records. Wichita State and Syracuse, the other two unbeatens, won Saturday. The Orange will likely take over the No. 1 spot in both major polls.
The loss itself is far less concerning than Ashley’s injury. The sophomore forward suffered the injury when he landed awkwardly following a missed shot two minutes into the game and later sat on the bench in a walking boot.
Ashley is a key cog in Arizona’s frontline and ranks second on the team in points and rebounds per game. He is also a capable three-point shooter (39.3 percent from beyond the arc).
Sophomore center Kaleb Tarczewski stepped up with Ashley out, scoring a career-high 18 points and grabbing six rebounds in 35 minutes. But if Ashley is forced to miss the rest of the season, Tarczewski can only do so much to mitigate the impact of his absence.
Next up for Arizona are two home games against the Oregon schools. The Wildcats should have no problem getting back on track. The Pac-12 remains their conference to lose; the first-place Wildcats still hold a 1.5-game lead on UCLA. But if Ashley is lost for the season, Arizona's previous status as the national championship frontrunner may need to be revisited.
When the Wildcats look back on 2013-14, it’s more likely they’ll remember Saturday not as the night they lost their first game, but – if Miller’s initial comments prove true – as the one when one of their best players was lost for the season.
Losing a game is one thing. Potentially losing a key player like Ashley is much worse.
(16) Iowa State 81, (23) Oklahoma 75
A five-point loss at Oklahoma on January 11 had kicked off an ugly stretch for the Cyclones. Iowa State held serve against the Sooners at home Saturday, getting a combined 49 points and 14 rebounds from forwards Melvin Ejim and Georges Niang and limiting Oklahoma’s leading scorer, Cameron Clark (16.5 ppg), to seven points on 3-of-7 shooting. The Cyclones have nearly wrapped up one of the toughest stretch of conference games you’ll see anywhere in the country. Check out their past seven games: vs. Baylor, at Oklahoma, vs. Kansas, at Texas, vs. Kansas State, at Kansas and vs. Oklahoma. After it plays at No. 8 Oklahoma State on Monday, Iowa State’s schedule lightens up a bit. The Cyclones have taken their lumps in recent weeks, but all things considered, a 4-4 league record after that wicked stretch isn’t all that bad.
Big Sky Buzzer-Beater
Sacramento State forward Dylan Garrity beat Big Sky Conference-leading Weber State Saturday on a 75-foot shot at the overtime buzzer.
Seton Hall 68, Xavier 60
Before last weekend’s loss at Providence, the Musketeers seemed to have established themselves as the third best team in the Big East (behind first-place, No. 20 Creighton and second-place, No. 9 Villanova). On Saturday, Seton Hall dealt Xavier its second consecutive loss and its first at the Cintas Center this season. Pirates guard Fuquan Edwin scored a team-high 18 points and grabbed six rebounds to counter Musketeers guard Semaj Christon’s 21-point, six-assist effort. Xavier will need to pull an upset at Villanova Monday night to avoid a third consecutive loss.
Dayton 75, George Washington 65
After knocking off Cal, Gonzaga and Ole Miss in non-conference play, Dayton lost five of its first six games against Atlantic 10 competition. The Flyers snapped out of their funk Saturday by beating third-place George Washington at University of Dayton Arena. Forward Devin Oliver scored 17 points and grabbed nine rebounds to pace the Flyers and guard Vee Sanford added 13 points off the bench. Colonials leading scorer Maurice Creek sat out this game with an illness (they were also missing guards Kethan Savage and Joe McDonald). George Washington, who last lost on January 9, at La Salle, should be able to get back on track with two winnable home games, against Duquesne and Fordham, over the next week. The Colonials play a VCU on Feb. 12.
Notre Dame 76, Boston College 73
SMU 87, (22) Memphis 72
If 9-0 Cincinnati slips over the final five weeks of conference play, the team most likely to challenge its hold on first place in the AAC standings may be SMU. The Mustangs thrashed the Tigers Saturday at Moody Coliseum behind 21 points and 15 rebounds from forward Markus Kennedy along with 14 points and 10 assists from guard Nic Moore. Larry Brown’s team is now 6-3 in AAC play. Having already beaten UConn and the Tigers, the Mustangs will have opportunities to knock two other league title contenders at home – Cincinnati (Feb. 8) and Louisville (Mar. 5) – before the end of the season. In Brown’s second season at the helm, SMU looks capable of playing itself into position to earn at at-large NCAA Tournament bid. The Mustangs have not lost at home this season.
St. Joseph’s 73, (21) UMass 68
The Minutemen have lost three of four since opening Atlantic 10 play with four consecutive wins. They lost at St. Joseph’s Saturday three days after losing at St. Bonaventure and now sit three games behind first-place St. Louis in the conference standings. Star point guard Chaz Williams had 16 points and 10 assists, but the Hawks had four players reach double figures, including forward Halil Kanacevic, who finished with 18 points and grabbed six rebounds. UMass hosts La Salle on Wednesday.
West Virginia 81, Kansas State 71
You might not have realized it, but West Virginia has been playing some pretty good basketball over the past week and change. It lost by six at then-No. 11 Oklahoma State on January 25, won at Baylor three days later and on Saturday took down the Wildcats. Mountaineers guard Juwan Staten scored 35 points on 8-of-13 shooting, shot 18-of-21 from the stripe and dished out five assists. In 357 minutes against Big 12 competition, Staten is averaging 20.4 points per game on 56.3 percent shooting.
(19) St. Louis 87, George Mason 81 OT
The Billikens moved to 7-0 in conference play Saturday by edging George Mason in overtime. St. Louis forwards Rob Loe and Dwayne Evans combined for 35 points and 15 rebounds and guard Austin McBroom added 15 points off the bench. Patriots guard Byron Allen scored a game-high 30. St. Louis has quietly played some of the best basketball in the country since the start of conference play and its only two losses this season are to undefeated No. 4 Wichita State and No. 14 Wisconsin, by a combined 11 points.
VCU 81, Richmond 70
VCU has now won five games in a row to move within a game of first-place No. 19 Saint Louis in the Atlantic 10 standings. The Rams got 14 points and five steals from guard Briante Weber and 10 points and 10 rebounds from forward Juvonte Reddic to overcome a 31-point effort from Spiders guard Kendall Anthony. VCU faces games against Rhode Island, at St. Joes and against George Washington – the only team to beat the Rams in conference play this season – before taking on the Billikens on February 15. Weber’s 258 steals are the most any player has recorded in program history. The previous record, which stood for 29 years, was 257.
(4) Wichita State 81, Evansville 67
When Evansville opened up a 15-point lead in the first half Saturday at Charles Koch Arena, Wichita State appeared in danger of suffering its first loss of the season. The score pretty much gives away what happened next. The Shockers stormed back, behind 28 combined points from guards Fred Van Vleet and Ron Baker, to win by double digits and keep alive the possibility that they will finish the regular season undefeated. Kenpom.com gives the Shockers a 38.7 percent chance of reaching the MVC Tournament with zero losses. Their next two games, at Indiana State and Northern Iowa, could be their two biggest remaining hurdles. If Wichita State wins those, it will not be unreasonable to project the Shockers to go the distance without taking an L.
Colorado 79, Utah 75
The Buffs had won just one game since losing point guard Spencer Dinwiddie to a season-ending knee injury last month. On Saturday, they picked up their second win without Dinwiddie when they edged Utah in overtime at the Coors Events Center. Guard Xavier Talton scored five of his 14 points in the extra period and forward Josh Scott contributed 20 points and 10 rebounds. The selection committee takes injuries into consideration when seeding and selecting teams, so it’s imperative that Colorado keeps winning games without Dinwiddie to prove that it deserves an at-large bid.
LSU 88, Arkansas 74 It’s unclear how many teams the SEC will send to the NCAA Tournament this season, but it probably won’t be more than four. LSU is looking like it could be one of the teams that make the cut. Four days after upending No. 11 Kentucky on Tuesday, the Tigers beat Arkansas at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center. Freshman forward Jordan Mickey scored 22 points, blocked six shots and grabbed 11 rebounds, while junior Johnny O’Bryant III had 23 points and nine rebounds. LSU (14-6, 5-3 SEC) sit in fourth place in the SEC standings. The Razorbacks played this game without two important contributors.