No. 3 Arizona stays hot, rolls past Cal 96-71 for best start since 2013-14 season
Christian Koloko had 19 points, 13 boards, and three blocked shots, Bennedict Mathurin added 14 points and eight boards, and No. 3 Arizona rolled right on past Cal 96-71 Sunday afternoon on the road.
The win moved the Cats to 6-0 in conference play and 16-1 on the season, their best start to a year since the 2013-14 squad opened up with 21 straight wins. Even more impressive, Arizona put up 96 points without Azuolas Tubelis on the Pac-12’s No. 1 scoring defense. Cal entered Sunday’s game yielding 62.7 points a game, the 37th-best mark in college basketball; Arizona topped that with more than 13 minutes still to play.
“I thought it was a great effort,” said head coach Tommy Lloyd after the game. “It’s what you hope for on the road, that you come out and fight from start to finish, your team’s solid and executes the plan. I thought we did a really good job of dictating what they were doing on the offensive end and then on our end of the floor getting into our movement.”
Arizona won handily despite being without its second-leading scorer (Tubelis), who suffered a lower-body injury Thursday against Stanford. In his absence, a twin-towers-style lineup from UA powered the Cats from the jump. Koloko and Oumar Ballo, both legit 7-footers, had a combined 20 points and eight rebounds at the halftime break.
They finished with a combined 33 points and five blocks. Arizona was plus-nine on the boards and plus-six in paint points. Obviously bothered by Arizona’s size, Cal shot just 35% from the field.
“Not a lot of people are playing big anymore,” Lloyd said. “I’m going to give credit to Oumar for really making a lot of progress over the last couple of months. He’s really becoming an impactful player. And I’m going to give credit to CLo, he’s gotten so much better this year and defensively he’s so good that you’re comfortable putting him out on the perimeter and you don’t lose much—sometimes you gain.
“Having that versatility is great. We haven’t had to do it much because traditionally Azuolas is a really good player and when he’s healthy you can ride that lineup, which has been pretty good. Now we’re playing one big/four guards and we can play two bigs—your twin-tower lineup—and we can play small with five guards, so I like the versatility.”
The Wildcats had a 14-point lead six minutes into the game, a 21-point halftime lead, and then as large as a 29-point second-half lead en route to their 10th consecutive win over the Bears.
“I thought we had a good plan, Cal’s a team we respect, you’re obviously on the road so you’ve got a little heightened sense of awareness, and we knew it was an important game for us,” Lloyd said when asked if he was worried about a possible letdown game. Arizona beat Stanford big on Friday and has a marquee matchup with UCLA on the docket for Tuesday. But the Cats stayed locked in and took care of business.
“Each one of these games, when you’re playing a 20-game conference season, Win (No.) 4 or 5 means as much as Win (No.) 12, 13, and 1. We take them serious.”
Cal head coach Mark Fox was ejected in the first half after picking up two technical fouls. At one point, a clearly angry Fox walked onto the court and yelled toward a referee before an assistant walked Fox back to the bench. Cal missed 10 of its first 12 shots and trailed by 24 at the time of his ejection.
The frustration there is clear. Cal (9-10, 2-6 Pac-12) has now lost five straight. It’ll face No. 9 UCLA on the road next, with tip-off set for Thursday at 6 p.m. PT.
Arizona travels to the Bruins on Tuesday. Tip-off is set for 8 p.m. PT on ESPN.