Cal Basketball: Bears Can't Find Enough Offense in 68-52 Loss to Arizona

Photo by D. Ross Cameron, USA Today

Jeff Faraudo

Cal mostly controlled tempo. The Bears played stretches of solid defense. This is how they want to play, how they have to play.

But even in a game that was low scoring by design, the Bears simply didn't have sufficient firepower to get over the hump against an Arizona team that put together enough bursts of dominance to claim a 68-52 victory on Thursday night in front of 6,291 fans at Haas Pavilion.

Cal (10-14, 4-7 Pac-12) lost for just the fourth time in 14 home games, just the second time at Haas in six Pac-12 outings.

But the league's most offensively challenged team struggled to score again. The Bears managed just 20 first-half points, suffered through scoring droughts of 6 minutes in the first half and 4 minutes in the second half to wind up with their ninth game of 52 points or fewer.

The Bears trailed just 33-32 after a basket from the corner by Grant Anticevich with 13:58 left. But Cal already was picking up personal fouls in the half and coach Mark Fox talks in the video above about how that made it tough for the Bears to continue playing the way they wanted.

"This is how we're going to play. We've got to keep the score down and when they got in the bonus with about 12 minutes to go, it's hard for us," Fox explained. "Then, if we stay aggressive defensively, they're shooting free throws. 

"We had the game at 32 to 33 and they went on a 7-0 run and we never threatened after that. Once they got in the bonus that early in the second half that makes it hard for us because the style that gives us a chance to win, we couldn't keep it that way."

Matt Bradley scored 19 points, but even he had a rough shooting night, making 7 of 18. No one else hit double figures, although Andre Kelly turned in a good effort with 8 points and 9 rebounds to finish at plus-2, the only Cal player on the right side of the plus-minus ledger.

The Bears are averaging just 62.2 points per game - easily the lowest mark in the Pac-12 and among the bottom 20 out of 350 Division I teams nationwide. 

Bradley averages 17.7 points, but no one else is a consistent scorer. Cal has no choice but to try shortening the game with its pace and defense, and the Bears didn't do enough to put a lid on the Wildcats.

Cal finished at 38 percent from the field, made just 4 of 10 free throws and committed 15 turnovers. It didn't help that Arizona blocked six shots, including three on one Cal possession.

With those offensive numbers, a formula that calls for a sedate pace and a focus on defense is tough to pull off.

Arizona freshman big man Zeke Nnaji scored 21 points, including 15 in the second half. "He's whipped a lot of tails this year and he whipped ours tonight," Fox said.

Arizona did not shoot well from the perimeter for most of the game but made three big 3-pointers in the final 5 minutes to pull away. Dylan Smith, who entered the game having missed 17 straight 3-pointers, misfired on his first attempt vs. Cal, then hit four in a row, including two big ones with just under 5 minutes left to stretch the margin to 59-43.

PRE-GAME: Where does this Cal basketball season go from here?

The Bears are 10-13 overall and 4-6 in the Pac-12 Conference heading into tonight’s game against Arizona at Haas Pavilion.

The Wildcats (16-7, 6-4) are young and talented, but they have been less-than-predictable on the road, just 2-4 with defeats at Oregon State and Arizona State.

Cal, meanwhile, is 10-3 at Haas, which suggests the Bears could give Arizona a fight tonight, even though the Wildcats have won the past seven meetings and are 10-point favorites.

The Bears have just four more home games — tonight, Arizona State on Sunday afternoon, then a visit by the mountain schools two weeks from now.

On the other hand, Cal has trips still to Washington and Oregon for four ore road games. And the Bears are 0-7 on the road, 0-10 in all games outside the Berkeley city limits.

First-year coach Mark Fox already has coaxed two more victories from this roster than the Bears totaled each of the past two seasons. They show progress in many games, regress in others, but they cleared better than the two previous editions.

Sooner or later, Cal will win again on the road. Maybe as early as next week against the struggles Huskies or Cougars. In the meantime, they're home tonight with a chance to make some hay.

Check back for starting lineups and in-game updates at the 7:30 p.m. tipoff.

Cal starting lineup: G Paris Austin; G Kareem South; G Matt Bradley; F Grant Anticevich; C Lars Thiemann.

Arizona starting lineup: G Nico Mannion; G Josh Green; G Dylan Smith; F Stone Gettings; F Zeke Nnaji.

15:00 1st H: Three-pointers by Paris Austin and Matt Bradley have given the Bears an early lead. Arizona is shooting 2-for-6 and has scored on just one of its past six possessions. Cal 8, Arizona 7.

11:04 1st H: The Bears have failed to score on their past 6 possessions - shooting 0-for-4 with 2 turnovers. Arizona hasn't done much more, but has a mini 4-0 run going to take the lead. Arizona 11, Cal 8.

6:05 1st H: Cal's scoring drought spanned nine possessions and 6 minutes, 5 seconds before Kareem South scored on a drive to the basket with 9:17 left. That cut Arizona's seven-point lead to 15-10. When Bradley hit a 3-pointer with 7:45 left, the Bears were within 17-13. But 5-for-16 from the field and 6 turnovers is not a winning formula. Arizona 19, Cal 13.

HALFTIME: Arizona 27, Cal 20. Somehow, the Bears are within seven points despite shooting 32 percent and committing eight turnovers. Cal trailed by just 5 points before Jemarl Baker made a mid-range jump shot with 36 seconds left. Paris Austin had his 3-point try blocked late in the half. Matt Bradley has 8 points to lead all scorers. Arizona is shooting 46 percent but is 1-for-7 on threes and has six turnovers. Cal has played the game at its pace, but will have to stop giving away possessions if it expects to beat the Wildcats.

15:41 2nd H: Kareem South hit a 3-pointer early in the half and Grant Anticevich -- 0-for-3 in the first half -- scored a layup to get the Bears within five points. There apparently is a little-known rule prohibiting players from making two free throws in a row because they have failed to go 2-for-2 on their past five chances in this game. Where is Rick Barry when you need him? Arizona 33, Cal 28.

13:52 2nd H: Yes, we have a game. Andre Kelly scored inside to get the Bears close and Anticevich drilled a long 2-pointer from the right corner off a feed from freshman Joel Brown to pull the Bears within a point. Arizona coach Sean Miller, whose team is shooting 2-for-6 this half, called timeout. Arizona 33, Cal 32.

11:46 2nd H: The Wildcats have answered with a 7-0 burst, punctuated by Dylan Smith's 3-point shot. Freshman Zeke Nnaji preceded that by scoring twice in the post. Cal has two turnovers and a missed shot on its past three possessions. A big moment in the game for the Bears. Arizona 40, Cal 32.

7:48 2nd H: Arizona's scoring run reached 12-0 when Nico Mannion made two free throws for a 45-32 lead with 10:17 left. Cal failed to score on seven straight possessions - shooting 0-for-4 from the field, 0-for-4 from the free throw and committing 3 turnovers. Bradley ended the drought by making a 3-pointer with 9:59 left. He leads the Bears with 13 points, but is shooting 4-for-12. Cal is 4-for-10 at the FT line and has 12 turnovers. This is near crisis-stage for Cal. Arizona 51, Cal 39.

4:35 2nd H: This is pretty much over. Dylan Smith just hit back-to-back 3-pointers (the 2nd one uncontested) and the Wildcats have their biggest lead. Arizona 59, Cal 43.