This did not follow the script.
Cal, the last-place team in the Pac-12, upsetting a 13th-ranked Arizona team riding a huge wave of momentum at McKale Center? The Wildcats (23-6, 12-6 Pac-12) were supposed to be on a high following Friday’s overtime win over No. 4 Stanford.
Today turned out to be a letdown. Senior Day activities might have weighed on the players emotionally. Thinking that they should beat the Golden Bears — who just lost by 23 points at ASU — probably was too much on their mind.
Cal (11-18, 3-15 Pac-12) left McKale with a 55-54 win over the stunned Wildcats.
Adia Barnes addresses the crowd after the Senior Day activities. pic.twitter.com/W4XY8PBYPA
“We were focused on more about the celebration after (the game) rather than what we needed to accomplish firsthand,” said senior Dominique McBryde, who had 12 points, five rebounds and three steals before fouling out.
After the Senior Day ceremony in which McBryde, Lucia Alonso, Aari McDonald, Amari Carter and Tee Tee Starks were honored, Adia Barnes made sure to get the microphone to address the 6,705 fans at McKale.
Aari McDonald honored as part of Senior Day activities with her family. pic.twitter.com/atjmzlT6w9
Lucia Alonso talks about what memories she will take from her Arizona career and what the distinction means of being Adia Barnes’ first recruit. pic.twitter.com/atrd8SdqLu
“I’m sad and my heart’s broken because we didn’t find a way to step up for the seniors and for you guys, so I’m sorry for that,” Barnes said. “Now, we have a lot more to prove because we just took a step back.”
The teams might play again Friday if Cal, the No. 12 seed, makes it past the first round of the Pac-12 tournament. Arizona will be the No. 4 seed and will play the winner of the No. 12 and No. 5 seeds. The No. 5 seed will ASU. The Wildcats swept the Sun Devils this season.
In today’s game, after Sam Thomas missed a 3-pointer with 48 seconds left, Cal called a timeout with the score tied at 52. Jaelyn Brown made one of two free throws with 33 seconds left to put Cal ahead 53-52.
McDonald was fouled going to the basket with 25.0 seconds left and she made both of her free throws to allow Arizona to regain the lead.
McBryde fouled out with 16.2 seconds left, sending C.J. West to the line. West missed both free throws but Brown got the offensive rebound over Cate Reese and made the basket to give Cal a 55-54 lead with 14.3 seconds left.
Adia Barnes said that in practice this week Arizona will work on free throw boxouts and fouling jump shooters — “things we shouldn’t be working on this late in the season.” pic.twitter.com/1jMHS4Ervz
A 3-point attempt by McDonald bounced off the rim with 3 seconds left and Thomas’ wild one-hand shot at the end went too far at the buzzer. Cal’s players stormed the court in a scene that nobody thought would happen.
Combining a potential letdown from Friday’s intense overtime victory over Stanford with the emotions involved for Senior Day — many of the players’ families were in attendance — the way Arizona played at the start gave an indication of how the game would unfold.
Arizona’s execution on offense was dismal with a 1-of-11 shooting performance from the field with six turnovers in the first quarter. Cal took advantage of that by leading by as many as 14 points in the second quarter.
The Wildcats made six consecutive shots — three by Reese — in the third quarter and 12 of 15 stretching back to the second quarter after starting 1 of 15 from the field. A jumper by Helena Pueyo with 4:42 left in the third quarter gave Arizona its biggest lead to that point, 39-34.
Reese had her first scoreless game of the season in the win over Stanford on Friday. She finished with 14 points and 10 rebounds against Cal — her 15th career double-double — but she will likely think of the one that got away to Brown.
Barnes instituted more of a full-court press which seemed to light a fire under Arizona in the second quarter. The Wildcats held Cal without a field goal in the last 5:37 of the half and they made six of their last eight shots from the field — including a 3-pointer by McBryde with 3 seconds left– to cut Cal’s lead to 30-26 at halftime.
Arizona closed the half scoring seven unanswered points. The run went into the second half, increasing to 11-0 and Arizona tying the game at 30.
The game remained close in the second half with neither team leading by more than five points.
Adia Barnes said the loss to last-place Cal “hurts things” and means her team “took a step back” with the Pac-12 tournament and NCAA tournament ahead. pic.twitter.com/4o5GhjOR0e
Arizona lost to Cal and this one will stick in the gut for a while for the Wildcats, but sooner or later, they will have to get past this. Lucia Alonso and Dominique McBryde each tried to set their sights on the upcoming Pac-12 tournament. pic.twitter.com/OanqqLn6hZ
Cal was coming off a 77-54 loss at ASU on Friday. Barnes has said many times that a team playing with nothing to lose is dangerous.
The Golden Bears had an RPI rating of No. 128 entering the game, giving the Wildcats their worst loss of the season in terms of power rating. How the loss affects Arizona’s seeding in the NCAA tournament will be known tomorrow at halftime of the South Florida-UConn game on ESPN.
The selection committee will announce its second and final release of the seed rankings at that time. The game starts at 5 p.m.
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.