Revenge may be a dish best served cold, but the Arizona Wildcats †had no problem offering it to the California Golden Bears scalding hot, either. The Wildcats avenged their Feb. 1 loss at Haas in an enormous way, blistering the visiting Bears 87-59.
The 59 points by Cal (18-10, 9-6) would have been enough to defeat Arizona (26-2, 13-2) in the first game, but Cal was consistently outplayed at both ends of the floor by a Wildcat team invigorated by a typical McKale home crowd of over 14,000. Arizona has won 20 straight games on their home floor, and they were very consistent in smoking Cal, 44-29 in the first half, and 43-30 after the intermission.
Nick Johnson, nephew of Basketball Hall of Fame member Dennis Johnson, led all scorers with 22 points, after being held to only six in the game at Cal. Johnson added seven rebounds and five assists, and provided the Wildcats with the leadership on the floor that the Golden Bears clearly lacked.
Rondae Hollis-Johnson came off the Arizona bench to score 12 and lead all players with 10 boards, as the 'Cats out-rebounded the Bears 42-25, including 15 offensive rebounds. Surprisingly, Arizona converted the 15 rebounds into only 13 second-chance points, but they didn't need to be any better than they were.
"We played good in spurts," said Cal head coach Mike Montgomery, "but we got killed on the boards."
Four of the Wildcats' five starters scored in double figures, with Kaleb Tarczewski chipping in 16, and T.J. McConnell and Aaron Gordon each netting 13. Cal had only one player in double figures, Justin Cobbs, who potted 12 on 5-for-12 from the floor. Cal had just two free throws before the intermission, and forced only three turnovers by the Wildcats in the opening 20 minutes.
The game opened promisingly for Cal, as the Bears jumped out to an 8-2 lead behind a pair of blocked shots by David Kravish, who finished the night with four blocks. Kravish and Richard Solomon both quickly picked up a pair of fouls, however, and the rout was on. Cal's last lead was at 14-13, and over the 12 minutes after their 8-2 lead, they were outscored 37-15.
Cal made numerous errors, forced and unforced, rarely got more than a single shot in a possession, and could not keep up with the running Wildcats, despite hitting on 10 of their first 16 shots.
Arizona, which scored 57 points and missed only four of 26 shots in the second half against Colorado in their previous game, added 44 in the first half Wednesday, giving them a 101-point output over a 40-minute stretch. This, from a team known for its defense (4th in the nation).†
Cal did manage to make a game of it in the second half for a period of time, closing the gap to eight at 55-47 with about 12 minutes to play, only to see the Wildcats go on a 32-12 run as the game wound down. "That's how we have to play all the time," said Montgomery. "But we can't get in a hole and try to come from behind. we get tired, it's hard for us to play 40 minutes like that, but that's what we need to do."
Perhaps the most disheartening moment of the game came inside the final minute, when freshman Jordan Mathews apparently got stepped on by an Arizona player in front of Cal's bench and crumpled to the floor in obvious pain. Ironically, Arizona star Brandon Ashley had his foot stepped on in the early minutes of the game at Cal and is lost for the remainder of the season. Mathews appeared to be in significant pain and ripped his shoe off, clutching at the top of his left foot before being helped off the floor. Montgomery said after the game he did not know how Mathews was, but that it appeared to be a "sprained ankle, painful, as they often are." Mathews left the arena limping, but not using crutches.
Cal can still salvage a top-4 finish in the conference, but it will be more difficult if Montgomery's bench is shortened by the loss of Mathews. At 9-6, they will concede ground either to Stanford or ASU, which played each other later Wednesday night. They rebounded well after a stultifying loss to UCLA on their home floor by 22 points; it remains to be seen whether they can do the same in Tempe Saturday after the 28-point hammering administered by what appears to be by far the best team in the country.