Bears battle No. 9 Arizona to a standstill before falling 62-57 in Pac-12 showdown

February 12, 2017

Cal Bears, NCAA

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Arizona guard Allonzo Trier (35) drives between California guard Stephen Domingo (31) and Ivan Rabb (1) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, Feb. 11, 2017, in Tucson, Ariz. Arizona defeated California 62-57. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

By Morris Phillips

The intensity of the Pac-12 best homecourt environment was present as always on Saturday night at the McKale Center, but Coach Cuonzo Martin was more than capable as a counterpoint, stalking the sideline with an intent and proximity that the players–and referees–couldn’t help but notice.

This was a unmistakably, big game and likely the Cal Bears’ surest path to an NCAA tournament invite.  Martin’s team played as if their was something significant to gain, but this time, No. 9 Arizona was just as intent to send the Bears home empty-handed.

“They scored 57 points. Let’s start there,” Arizona coach Sean Miller recounted when asked if his Wildcats got his message regarding defensive intensity. “They had 11 turnovers. They shot 43 percent from the field, 31 percent from 3. Shot only 12 free throws against what I think is one of the best frontcourt players in the country in Ivan Rabb.  We did an excellent job of our post trap. Our effort level, our defensive rebounding–we gave Cal four, second shots so of course I’m very, very happy with our defense.”

What Miller aptly recalled may have been his Wildcats best defensive effort of the season.  But it was entirely needed against a Cal team that was as good at both ends minus a couple of timely made shots.  That Cal operated without foul-hampered Rabb for most of the first half, then without point guard Charlie Moore for the entire second half illustrated how close the Bears were to picking up their most significant win of the season.

In fact, the Bears may regret their slow start (three turnovers, one missed shot, scoreless over the game’s first three minutes) as much as their three consecutive missed shots after drawing within 55-51 with 2:22 remaining.  Rabb and Moore were on the floor for the initial minutes, and Rabb also at the conclusion where he missed a tough, contested shot that would have sliced Arizona’s lead to two.

“It was a chess match and a hard-fought game,” Martin said. “They did enough to win the ball game.”

 

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