Playing their first week of games without injured point guard Tyrone Wallace, California is in a position where they need to start putting together some quality wins for their NCAA tournament hopes. And with their best win coming at home against Saint Mary’s, Saturday’s game against No. 12 Arizona set up as a big one for Cuonzo Martin’s Golden Bears.
Cal managed to survive a Gabe York missed shot in the final seconds, beating Arizona 74-73 with Jordan Mathews scoring a game-high 28 points to lead the way. Mathews came off the bench Saturday night, with Cal tinkering with a rotation that took the hit of Wallace’s injury, and he gave them much-needed scoring in the sixth man role.
That was a spot in which Jabari Bird never seemed completely comfortable earlier in the season, and over the last three games Bird’s averaging nearly 13 points per game as a starter. Add in two gifted freshmen in Jaylen Brown and Ivan Rabb, and two big men in Kameron Rooks and Kingsley Okoroh who can play the five and thus keep Rabb at his more natural power forward position, and there’s no denying that the Golden Bears have talent than could potentially be dangerous in the NCAA tournament.
The issue was that Cal’s credentials, as noted above, were (and to a certain extent still are) lacking. Saturday’s win over Arizona, which has now lost four games by a total of ten points, helps in that regard as Cal looks to ensure that their name will be called Selection Sunday. Even with the loss of Wallace, who should be back before the end of the regular season, the Golden Bears have the personnel needed to account for that personnel loss.
Against Arizona Mathews came off the bench to serve as the team’s best scorer, with Brown showing that he can make plays for both himself and for others (15 points, seven assists) offensively.
The key now for Cal is to take the momentum gained from this home sweep of the Arizona schools on the road, beginning with their trip to Utah/Colorado next week. And for a team in need of quality wins away from Berkeley, that road trip sets up as a big one when it comes to California’s NCAA tournament hopes.