Cal Basketball: Home Court Couldn't Save Bears Against Arizona
Cal's loss to Arizona on Thursday was not particuarly surprising. However, losing to the Wildcats at home by a lopsided 68-52 margin and not being in the game for the final seven minutes was surprising.
Despite its limitations Cal (10-14, 4-7 Pac-12) had been able keep games close at home this season, absorbing the energy from the Haas Pavilion crowd to play clamp-down defense and often making a few plays at the end to pull out a win.
The Bears beat Washington by three points, Stanford by two, Oregon State by two and Washington State by seven after holding just three-point lead with 55 seconds left.
Get it down to the wire, and there was a pretty good chance Cal would make a winning play at the end.
Cal entered Thursday's game 10-3 at home, and its only conference loss at Haas was a five-point loss to nationally ranked Oregon, still considered the best team in the conference.
Arizona (17-7, 7-4) is pretty good this season, capable of making a run at the Pac-12 title. But the Wildcats do not resemble the powerhouse teams Lute Olson used to bring into Haas Pavilion. These Wildats came to Berkeley unranked and coming off a 13-point home loss to UCLA in which Arizona shot 25.4 percent from the floor.
Cal needed to keep the score down and keep the game close, something it had done consistently to opponents in home games.
It seemed a similar situation was materializing when Grant Anticevich hit a shot from the corner to pull Cal within 33-32 with 14 minutes left.
Then it fell apart. Zeke Nnaji hit two lose-range shots to put Arizona up by five, and the Bears were virtually doomed when they picked up their sixth personal foul with 12:42 left. It meant Arizona would be in the bonus the rest of the way, and Cal would be unable to play the aggressive defense that enables them to stay close.
It was all part of a 12-0 Arizona run that turned the game into the type of low-scoring, tight contest Cal that Cal can't win.
Arizona led by 14 points with seven minutes left and by 19 with four minutes remaining. There was no opportunity to make a game-winning play at the end.
Scoring just 52 points was not seen as the problem. Allowing 68 was.
"For us it starts with defense," Cal guard Paris Austin said. "[If] we get the stops on defense, it leads to our offense. It gives everybody motivation. It gives everybody that extra drive when we get a stop, it just helps us more on offense."
Cal's players understand how this team needs to play to have a chance
"That's how we want the game," Austin said. "We want to control our tempo, get the shots that we want. It comes down to us getting stops."
It needs to be a possession-by-possession halfcourt game for Cal. No up-and-down, highlight film romp. Just gutty, tough defense every single time, and patient, efficient offense every single time. Slow the game. Keep the score down. Keep the game close. It's a fine line, leaving little room for error.
Cal has been able to do that at home this season. Arizona broke through that fine line on Thursday, and you saw the result.