By Morris Phillips
BERKELEY, CA–Cal’s season-long shooting issues didn’t get corrected on Thursday night. Arizona’s shooting struggles created last week at home against the Los Angeles schools did, with a jolt of confidence that surfaced in a timely manner after halftime.
Some issues are chronic, some are fleeting. In a 16-point road victory over Cal, Arizona and sharpshooter Dylan Smith found theirs are fleeting. Smith helped UA break open a one-point game with four, consecutive made 3-pointers–after 18 misses dating back to late January–as the Wildcats surged to a comfortable 68-52 win over host Cal.
Arizona coach Sean Miller considered benching Smith and his balky jump shot against Cal. Ultimately, he penciled the fifth-year senior into the lineup because Miller knew Smith would help Arizona win. Miller’s intuition was spot on.
“It’s just I don’t want Dylan Smith to be the scapegoat because we lost a home game or because he’s shooting poorly,” Miller said. “You don’t start him tonight and all of a sudden that’s the answer.”
The Bears lost their third straight, after a competitive start that saw them trail by seven at the half, and 33-32 with 13:59 remaining, only to see their offense lose steam down the stretch. Cal shot 38 percent for the game, but their starters shot just 32 percent with the majority of the misses in the game’s final 10 minutes.
“We have to keep the score down,” coach Mark Fox explained. “At 32-33, they went on a 7-0 run, and we never threatened after that. When they got into the bonus with 12 minutes to go, it makes it hard for us to run the style of play that gives us the best chance to win.”
The Pac-12’s lowest scoring team, and also the team with the slowest pace, scored exactly 52 points for the fifth time this season. On four of those occasions–including Thursday–the Bears (10-14, 4-7) suffered a double-digit loss.
“We want it to be a low-scoring game,” Matt Bradley said. “For us to win games, we need to play defense. Tonight, our defense wasn’t there, and that’s why we lost.”
Bradley led Cal with 19 points, eight rebounds, but he missed 11 of his 18 shots. Bradley was the only Cal player in double digits, Grant Anticevich and Andre Kelly each added eight points.
The Bears get an opportunity to better energize their Haas Pavilion crowd on Sunday afternoon when Arizona State visits at 3pm.