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Cal Basketball: Bears Ready to Face `A Bonafide Contender for the National Championship'

Arizona brings a 15-1 record and an explosive offense to Sunday's game at Haas Pavilion.

Next up for Cal: an Arizona team that Bears coach Mark Fox is calling “a bonafide contender for the national championship.”

The Bears (9-9, 2-5) take on the third-ranked Wildcats (15-1, 5-0) on Sunday at Haas Pavilion, with a noon tipoff.

Arizona was projected to finish in a tie for fourth in the preseason Pac-12 media poll, but Fox believed first-year coach Tommy Lloyd inherited a better team than that.

“We always felt like they might have the most talented team in the conference, they may have a chance to be one of the best teams in America.” he said in the video above. “To Tommy’s credit, he’s been able to keep everybody on board and they’ve become just that.”

Asked to provide a scouting report on the Wildcats, Fox heaped massive praise on a team whose average scoring margin of 24.5 points leads the nation.

“I think their strengths are numerous,” Fox said. “They have length at the rim, which is advantageous for them both on offense and defense. They have a lottery pick (Bennedict Mathurin) on the wing, who is a matchup nightmare for just about every team. And then they have great guard play with the ability to shoot the 3.

“They’re a terrific team — their offense and their passing gets a lot of compliments, as it should. Their defense is being overlooked because their offense is so great.”

No. 3 ARIZONA (15-1, 5-0) at CAL (9-9, 2-5)

WHERE: Haas Pavilion, Berkeley

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WHEN: Sunday, noon

TV/RADIO: Pac-12 Networks/810-AM

CAL-ARIZONA HISTORY: Arizona leads 68-31. The Wildcats have won the past nine meetings since Jan. 23, 2016 — exactly six years ago — when Cal upset the 12th-ranked Wildcats 74-73 behind 28 points from Jordan Mathews and in front of a sellout crowd of 11,858 at Haas. Jaylen Brown made the second of two free throws with 18.4 seconds left to provide the margin of victory.

CAL STORYLINES: The Bears play their fifth game this season against an AP Top-25 team, having previously lost to No. 23 Florida, No. 21 Seton Hall, No. 7 USC and No. 5 UCLA, the latter two at home two weeks ago. Cal has lost nine straight games vs. Top-25 foes since a 76-62 win over No. 21 Colorado on Feb. 27, 2020. Its drought vs. AP Top-5 opponents dates back to Feb. 1, 2014, when Justin Cobbs’ game-winning shot from the left wing with 0.9 seconds left lifted the Bears to a 60-58 upset of top-ranked Arizona in Berkeley . . . Cal’s next two scheduled also are against nationally ranked foes, with matchups Thursday at UCLA and Saturday at USC . . . The Bears already have matched their win total of all last season but have lost their past four games . . . Cal, ranked first in the Pac-12 in scoring defense (62.7), will be challenged by an Arizona team that leads the conference in scoring (88.3) and have topped 90 points seven times . . . Seniors Jordan Shepherd (14.3 points) and Andre Kelly (14.2) lead the Bears in scoring . . . Senior Grant Anticevich (11.3), since posting 19 points against USC, is averaging just 5.0 points on 7-for-28 shooting the past three games. Coach Mark Fox talks in the video below about the additional defensive attention Anticevich has drawn since making seven 3-pointers against Pacific on Dec. 22.

ARIZONA STORYLINES: The Wildcats, under first-year coach Tommy Lloyd, are coming off an 85-57 rout of Stanford, which has elevated Arizona to No. 1 in the current NCAA NET computer rankings . . . The Wildcats featured a balanced and explosive attack, led by small forward Benedict Mathurin (17.7 points, 5.9 rebounds), a 6-foot-6 sophomore from Canada who is a leading candidate for Pac-12 Player of the Year. Power forward Azuolas Tubelis (15.1, 6.1), a 6-11 sophomore from Lithuania, sprained his ankle at Stanford and played just seven minutes. His status for Sunday is uncertain.In his place Thursday, Gonzaga transfer Oumar Ballo, a 7-foot, 260-pounder from Mali, scored a career-high 21 points in 22 minutes . . . Eight Arizona players average at least 6.4 points . . . Arizona has won each of its Pac-12 games by at least 16 points . . . The Wildcats lead the conference in shooting accuracy (.502) and field-goal percentage defense (.363), along with rebound margin (plus-9.4) and blocked shots (6.7).

CAL GAME NOTES: Click here

Cover photo of Bennedict Mathurin, USA Today

Follow Jeff Faraudo of Cal Sports Report on Twitter: @jefffaraudo