By Morris Phillips
The California Golden Bears found themselves at college basketball’s epicenter for the regular season finale, and they played their role as unwanted guests to the hilt for 35 minutes.
Doubling down on arguably their best half of basketball all season, the Bears kept the pressure on Arizona in the second half in front of a sold out crowd at the McKale Center. But with the game tied 53-53 with 5:49 remaining and Cal controlling the tempo and the home crowd growing increasingly nervous, the Bears went cold.
Arizona finished the game with a 13-1 run to capture the Pac-12 regular season championship outright, winning 66-54.
So what happened to the Bears, seemingly having a positive experience in an otherwise awful season, in those final moments?
“We turned it over and it didn’t feel like we got a really good look the last couple possessions, so that was kind of the difference in the game,” coach Wyking Jones said.
In the final minutes, Don Coleman missed a trio of 3-point attempts, Marcus Lee missed two free throws, and two other starters, Juwahn Harris-Dyson and Darius McNeill also missed shots. For Cal, only a made Don Coleman with 14 seconds remaining kept them from the embarrassment of going scoreless for the remainder of the game.
What could have been an encouraging regular season ending morphed into another in a long line of scoring droughts, which have dashed the team’s hopes in several other ballgames, leaving Jones only to talk of his team’s attitude in tough circumstances.
“They followed the game plan, played with toughness and that’s all we ask of them,” Jones said.
The Bears finished the regular season 2-16 in Pac-12 play and will open the conference tournament against fifth-seeded Stanford on Wednesday at 2:30pm. The winner advances to a quarterfinal matchup on Thursday against fourth-seeded UCLA.