Cal Men's Basketball Ends Regular Season with 89-61 Loss at Arizona
Jordan Shepherd has 16 points as the Wildcats celebrate a conference title.
Over the last few years my life has included a career transition, changes in personal relationships, and of course the fallout from an ongoing global pandemic. Less impactful but still relevant to my day-to-day existence has been the process of learning to follow many rebuilding teams. We have all been through trying seasons as fans of Cal football, of course. Nevertheless, many of my favorite squads both in collegiate and professional sports have struggled heavily in recent seasons. As a result, I have had to approach the way I watch individual games a bit differently. It should go without saying that I place Cal men’s basketball in that group. Even with a couple of moral victories along the way, it’s hard to hide from a season that includes a 10-game losing streak.
Even though the Bears aren’t generally lacking effort when they play, I couldn’t help but feel fatalistic about Saturday afternoon’s contest in Tucson. After all, this was an Arizona Wildcats team that is ranked second in the nation and would be playing on its home court to boot. Ultimately, for me part of repeatedly experiencing disappointment is making jokes as well as preparing for the worst. Last weekend’s joyous win over Stanford notwithstanding, conference play has often been a slog especially now that the steadying presence of Andre Kelly has been sidelined. While I had personally witnessed the Bears give USC a scare in Southern California in late January, Cal is well outside the top 100 in Division I according to Ken Pomeroy. The Bears are now 12-19 with a 5-15 conference record after falling 89-61 to the Wildcats. They suffered their 11th consecutive loss to Arizona.
Makale Foreman would get the start in place of Joel Brown, who was out with a knee injury. Arizona’s Bennedict Mathurin slammed home a dunk in the first few seconds of the game, but in general both offenses stagnated early. After Obinna Anyanwu came off the bench to put home a Grant Anticevich miss, the scoreboard read 4-3 in favor of the Bears at the first television timeout.
Things got ugly in a hurry for California as Arizona used a 19-2 run to take control. The Wildcats got way too many easy buckets along the way. At one stage, Oumar Ballo was outscoring the Bears 11-9 all by himself. The center from Mali would end up with 16 points in 17 minutes after Stanford kept him off the board entirely on Thursday.
Pelle Larsson’s drive to the hoop for a dunk while drawing a foul was another microcosm of this dark period. Larsson’s 13 points made him one of four Arizona players in double figures.
The Bears would rally to make the deficit smaller, finding found themselves trailing 40-31 at halftime as Jordan Shepherd led the way with 10 points. He ended with 16 total while shooting 5-for-14 from the floor, while Foreman’s 12 points were good for second place on the team.
Grant Anticevich’s line included four points, six rebounds and a steal. He attempted only four field goals and made one of them thanks to a solid pass from Jarred Hyder.
Overall, 10 Cal players received 10 minutes or more including Sam Alajiki, who scored a single point in a quiet appearance. Kuany Kuany managed six points, five boards and an assist in 21 minutes of action. The third Cal player in double figures was Thiemann, who has put together a nice run at the end of this campaign. On this afternoon, he scored 11 points to go with five rebounds and two assists.
Jalen Celestine missed all three attempts from long range and found himself in foul trouble. Aside from scoring six points, he inadvertently set up this nice put-back jam by Marsalis Roberson, who played 12 minutes for the second straight game.
The Wildcat starters and reserves alike continued to pour on the points in the second half. Arizona got offensive contributions from 12 players including a solid performance by Adama Bal. Overall the Wildcats exerted their will on offense by shooting 63 percent from the field compared to 39 percent for Cal. Justin Kier posted 13 points with Mathurin adding 13 of his own.
Arizona led 35-22 in rebounds, 46-12 in bench points, 46-28 in points in the paint, and 16-5 in points off turnovers despite similar turnover totals. You get the idea.
It was a predictable but rough ending to the regular season for Cal and Mark Fox, while Tommy Lloyd continues to enjoy a terrific start to his head coaching tenure. In his first season, Lloyd has guided Arizona to a regular season title with a record of 18-2 against Pac-12 teams, good for the most victories in conference history.
Next up for the Bears is Wednesday’s Pac-12 Tournament clash with the Washington State Cougars in Las Vegas. I miss the good old days when I could easily attend the tourney in Los Angeles, but I digress. Cal dropped both decisions to WSU this season, but the Bears’ last encounter was a narrow 68-64 defeat on February 5. Cal will not be favored especially without their biggest star, but at least the game provides more of an upset opportunity. Pomeroy gave Cal just a 3 percent chance of defeating Arizona. In the end, this game definitively showed us why.