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.