With two minutes remaining in No. 25 Cal’s matchup with No. 18 Arizona, it looked like viewers were witnessing a young team coming into its own as a legitimate threat in the NCAA Tournament.
Then McKale Magic took its hold, and the Wildcats somehow stole a victory from the jaws of defeat.
Arizona used an 11-0 run in the final two minutes to beat the Golden Bears 64-61 after Gabe York knocked down two 3s in a 44-second span to give the Wildcats the lead and a tie for third in the Pac-12.
York tallied 19 points on 8-of-13 shooting in his penultimate game at the McKale Center. Two other seniors, Ryan Anderson and Kaleb Tarczewski, each had a double-double inside against California’s big men.
This means a lot for the Wildcats, as this victory is probably — along with winning at Gonzaga — their best of the season. It’s the kind of victory that could raise Arizona’s résumé a seed line, and it also showed that they could beat teams with as high a talent level as the Golden Bears.
For the first 38 minutes, it looked like this game was something of a coronation for those who believed the Golden Bears had fully turned the corner after winning seven straight. Instead, it’s now a group that still has some questions on the road and questions about playing against teams that can do a really good job of cutting off penetration.
Cal is now 3-9 away from Haas Pavilion this season. In their seven-game win streak, five games were at home. The road victories were against Washington and Washington State, two teams that will not make the NCAAs (unless they win the Pac-12 Tournament). The Golden Bears are definitely playing better on the road, but at some point, victories matter, and these questions have to be answered against winning teams. And those victories are going to be really tough to come by if this group runs up against tough defenses that can slow down penetration, as we saw tonight.
Jaylen Brown was 2 for 9 with three turnovers. Ty Wallace was 2 for 12 with five turnovers. When those two don’t have it going, California has some problems creating offense, as we saw late in the game.
On one hand, you can look at things and say it’s impressive Cal was able to stick without a ton of production from two of its three best players. On the other hand, when defenses tighten late in the season, Cal might have some troubles in close, late-game scenarios.
Cuonzo Martin’s group is going to get a chance to show if it is actually improved on the road against Arizona State this weekend. Can the Golden Bears win a road game when their guests get physical? Because that’s exactly what Bobby Hurley’s Sun Devils do, and Cal is going to have to respond in kind and show it can win a tough game.