By Morris Phillips
BERKELEY, Calif. — Hard to believe, but the Arizona Wildcats went more than eight minutes without scoring a field goal on Saturday night at Haas Pavilion.
Didn’t matter much, the Cats led 14-10 when the drought started, and they still led 22-17 when it ended.
The statistical oddity said a lot more about the lackluster hosts than it said about Arizona.
Cal saw its shooting grow colder than the visitors in their 87-65 loss to Arizona that kept the Bears (5-11, 0-4) winless in the Pac-12. The 11th consecutive loss in conference play for the Bears left few positives. In fact, after Cal shot a miserable 34.5 percent for the game, coach Wyking Jones had little to say about his team’s offense.
That’s because Jones was so preoccupied with his team’s dismal defense that allowed 87 points despite Arizona’s drought, the Bears’ offense got a pass.
“We have to improve our sense of urgency on the defensive end,” said Jones. “It’s a major, major problem for us right now. We’re an athletic team. We’re a quick team. We’re undersized, so we shouldn’t be getting taken off the bounce the way we’re getting taken off the bounce or opening up the floor for guys to kick out to wide-open shooters.”
The 12th double-digit home loss in Wyking Jones’ 48 games as head coach was a definite low point right down to the smaller Arizona contingent of fans making more noise than Cal’s supporters. But fortunately for Cal, the schedule eases with a game at similarly challenged Washington State up next, a chance to break the losing skid.
But the Bears need significant improvement if they envision hanging with the Cougars in Pullman.
Justice Sueing paced Cal with 27 points, but he was the only Bear to score in double figures. Cal’s other four starters combined to miss 29 of their 38 shots. Connor Vanover started at center and missed all six of his shot attempts inside the arc. Vanover’s only makes? A pair of 3-pointers, and an inadvertent tip-in at the buzzer before halftime–for Arizona as the 7’3″ center attempted to secure the defensive rebound off Brandon Williams’ miss.
That basket was credited to Arizona’s Chase Jeter, who led the Cats with 23 points, nine rebounds, and was part of a huge run that took Arizona from up five at the end of their first half drought to 12 at halftime, and 26 with 5:48 remaining.
At one juncture, Arizona scored at least one point on 21 of 23 possessions. How could Cal’s defense be so porous?
“Effort is the biggest thing. We keep going back to the fact that we’re young but we’re a lot more than what we’re showing, and we all know that,” Sueing said. “It’s disappointing to see us work so hard, especially with shooting and defense being the emphasis in practice.”
Arizona (13-4, 4-0) isn’t the only Pac-12 team that’s undefeated in conference play, and Cal not the only team looking for it’s first win, but the two are first and last in the standings. Arizona has won six straight overall, and holds a half-game lead over Washington and UCLA, both at 3-0.
The Bears are 0-4, a half-game behind 0-3 Washington State. The two teams see each other on Thursday at 7 pm in Pullman, WA.