California v Arizona

Allen Crabbe and Justin Cobbs ensure Arizona won’t be No. 1

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One of the fan bases that felt it had an argument for the top spot in the polls come Monday was that of the Arizona Wildcats. Given the chaos ahead of them and a 20-2 record that includes a win over No. 8 Miami (sans Reggie Johnson), why not the Wildcats?

California guards Allen Crabbe and Justin Cobbs put an end to that argument, combining to score 52 points to lead the Golden Bears to a 77-69 win in Tucson.

Crabbe, who entered the game leading the Pac-12 with an average of 19.3 points per game, shot 12-of-15 from the field and scored a game-high 31 points. A Cobbs layup with 39 seconds remaining pushed the Cal lead out to six, with a pair of free throws sealing the biggest win of the season for Mike Montgomery’s squad.

If there’s one area (besides guarding Crabbe and Cobbs) that the Wildcats will point to in the loss its free throw shooting. Arizona attempted twice as many free throws as Cal (24 to 12) but hit just 16, leaving valuable points on the board. Mark Lyons led the way with 16 points but the Wildcats shot 11-of-30 from the field in the second half with Cal’s use of a zone defense being a factor.

With the result the focus isn’t whether or not Arizona should sit atop the national polls but rather how the Pac-12 race will shake out with three teams (Oregon and UCLA) tied atop the standings at 8-3. Four of Arizona’s final seven games will be played away from McKale Center, beginning with a game in Boulder against a Colorado team that won’t lack for energy given how the first meeting between the two ended.

A major issue is the play of their young big men, who are still working to become the collective force that many believe they can be.

Brandon Ashley scored 12 points and grabbed nine rebounds against California after struggling with foul trouble on Wednesday night, but the other three member of the rotation combined for 12 points and four rebounds and Cal outscored Arizona 30-20 in the paint.

This talented group of young big men needs to become more consistent, not only if Arizona is to make some noise in the NCAA tournament but first and foremost win the Pac-12.

Arizona has a very good resume to its credit but they didn’t play like the nation’s best team in either of their games this week. The only difference between the games against Stanford and California? The Golden Bears were able to close things out.

Raphielle also writes for the NBE Basketball Report and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej

Gonzaga’s NCAA tournament chances take a major blow in loss to No. 16 SMU

SMU guard Nic Moore (11) shoots over Gonzaga forward Kyle Wiltjer (33) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Jim Cowsert)
(AP Photo/Jim Cowsert)
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Nic Moore scored 18 of his 25 points in the second half and added 11 assists as No. 16 SMU knocked off Gonzaga in Moody Coliseum on Saturday night, 69-60.

The Zags got 20 points and 16 boards from Domantas Sabonis, but Kyle Wiltjer scored just four points and shot 2-for-17 from the floor.

It wasn’t pretty.

And it may have been the end of Gonzaga’s NCAA tournament hopes.

Entering Saturday, the Zags had an RPI in the mid-60s, enough to keep them in the bubble conversation but not enough to make them anything more than a team that will be projected to end up on the cut-line.

The issue is a complete lack of quality wins on their résumé. Gonzaga beat UConn in the Bahamas. That’s a borderline top 50 win. They beat Washington, another borderline top 50 win. Beyond that? They swept Pepperdine, beat Tennessee and own a win over Montana. None of those are top 100 wins, and that’s why the SMU game was such a big deal. The Mustangs are a top 25 team. This was a road game. This win was the kind of thing that the Zags could pin at the top of their profile.

But Wiltjer didn’t show up, the Zags had no answer for Moore and they’ll head back to Spokane needing, in all likelihood, to win the WCC’s automatic bid if they want to dance.

POSTERIZED: Cal’s Jaylen Brown has his dunk contest entry

California's Jaylen Brown lays up a shot against Oregon State in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016, in Berkeley, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
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Cal picked up a big win over Oregon State in Haas Pavilion on Saturday night, and the exclamation point was this emphatic dunk from Jaylen Brown: