It started badly for Cal on Sunday afternoon and it only got worse.
No. 3 Arizona showed itself to be the best team the Bears have faced this season, jumping out to a 17-3 lead and steamrolling their way to a 96-71 victory at Haas Pavilion.
In the meantime, frustrated Cal coach Mark Fox was ejected after picking up his second technical foul with 2:37 left in the half that ended with the Wildcats leading 48-27.
"Well, my frustration wasn't just about tonight. OK, my frustration was (over) some things that have built up to it," Fox said in his post-game Zoom call with reporters. "The official decided, like in third grade, to instigate a starting contest. And like in third grade, I took the bait.
"Got my second technical and put our team in a tough spot. But I'm always going to fight for our players, I promise you that. Certainly frustrating day in that area."
Earlier, during his radio post-game show, Fox said the Bears didn't play well enough to win but he had no complaints with their willingness to stand up to the Wildcats.
"We're going to fight," he said, "and if I have to lead the fight, sign me up."
The Bears (9-10, 2-6 Pac-12) lost their fifth straight game and must somehow regroup before playing Thursday at No. 9 UCLA and Saturday at No. 16 USC. Cal is winless on the road this season.
Cal lost to both Los Angeles schools in Berkeley earlier this month, but neither of them looked the equal of Arizona (16-1, 6-0). The Wildcats, ranked No. 1 by the NCAA's NET computer, did whatever they wanted on Sunday and there was little the Bears could do to stop them.
The Bears’ three best players — Andre Kelly, Jordan Shepherd and Grant Anticevich — combined to shoot 4 for 16 in the first half. Shepherd, who missed his first seven shots, wound up as Cal’s top scorer with 21 points on 6-for-19 shooting.
Kelly totaled eight points and eight rebounds and Anticevich had seven points and seven rebounds.
Kuany Kuany was the Bears’ second-leading scorer with nine points while Makale Foreman, who is battling a season-long foot injury, gave the Bears a lift with eight points off the bench.
Kelly talks in the video below about the impact of Arizona's size in the frontcourt.
Cal finished the afternoon shooting 43 percent. The Bears had a season-best 15 offensive rebounds — their second-highest total of the season — evidence of how hard they played. Even so, Arizona ended up with a 46-37 overall rebounding edge.
The Wildcats, under first-year coach Tommy Lloyd, have now won 10 straight against Cal since Jan. 23, 2016 — exactly six years earlier — when the Bears pulled a 74-73 upset of a 12th-ranked Arizona team. Cal is 0-5 this season against AP Top-25 teams.
Arizona played without starting power forward Azuolas Tubelis, a 6-foot-11 sophomore from Lithuania, who sprained his ankle at Stanford on Thursday and was wearing a boot on the bench at Haas. The Cats hardly missed his 15.1 points or 6.1 rebounds.
Christian Koloko, a 7-1 sophomore from Cameroon, had 19 points, a career-best 13 rebounds and three blocked shots. Sophomore Oumar Ballo, a 7-foot, 260-pounder from Mali by way of Gonzaga, had 14 points, 11 of them in the first half. Both were just too big for the Bears.
Small forward Bennedict Mathurin, who will be an NBA lottery pick this summer, scored 14 points to go with eight rebounds and four assists, as five players wound up in double figures for the nation’s No. 2 scoring team.
Arizona made nine of its first 14 shots in the game, Cal started 1 for 13. It was pretty much over by then. The Bears were hesitant offensive early in the game, Fox says in the video below, and never did get going defensively.
After falling behind 17-3 over the first six-plus minutes, the Bears some fight, especially on the offensive boards. They got three second chances on one possession before Kelly converted a putback, and three on another leading to a layup by Anticevich.
A jump shot by Makale Foreman got Cal within 24-14 with 9:32 left in the half, but that was the last time the Bears were as close as 10 points.
Fox received his first technical with 4:06 left and ensuing free throws by Jalen Terry pushed the margin to 41-18. The Bears’ third-year coach went a few steps onto the court two minutes later to again argue a call and, after apparently being warned, got his second “T” and was gone.
Assistant coach Chris Harriman took the reins for the remainder of the game.
Cal got within 54-38 early in the second half, but Arizona never gave up control of the game. The lead reached a peak of 29 points at 78-49 with about 9 minutes left.
Cover photo of Cal coach Mark Fox by Darren Yamashita, USA Today
Follow Jeff Faraudo of Cal Sports Report on Twitter: @jefffaraudo