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No. 23 Cal barely survives fiery Arizona

The start of PAC-12 play has not been very kind to Arizona who is still seeking its first conference win. The Wildcats fought hard, coming within two points of No. 23 Cal, however, could not get over the hump.

Tommy Lynn Calhoun/Swish Appeal

Tuscon, AZ — The Arizona Wildcats were 15 minutes away from their biggest win of the season.

Then, the No. 23 California Golden Bears floored the gas pedal, going on a 15-4 run in the third to secure a 53-51 win on Sunday afternoon.

With both teams coming off of hard-fought losses, the Wildcats (4-11, 0-4 Pac-12) and the Golden Bears (11-4, 2-2 Pac-12) were looking to bounce back. Although Cal was the larger and athletic team, Arizona was able to control the tempo for most of the first three quarters.

Even with the size differences, Arizona outscored Cal 8-2 in the paint during the first period. Cal did go on a 10-4 run at one point, and ended up leading 13-9 at the ens of the first quarter.

The Wildcats increased their intensity on defense, making it difficult for the Bears to successfully convert baskets. Cal only shot 17.6% in the second quarter, allowing Arizona to gain complete control of momentum and enter the half with a 26-21 lead.

The nine points that Arizona allowed in the second was the lowest they had allowed to a Pac-12 opponent since Jan. 27, 2017 (USC, nine points).

Arizona held a 10-point lead halfway through the third quarter until Cal decided to execute a full court pressure that caused a massive shift in momentum. Cal went on a 15-4 run, giving them a 38-37 lead going into the fourth.

“I think putting on that press at the start of the second half, jump started us a little bit,” Cal head coach Lindsay Gottlieb said on the game swinging in favor of the Golden Bears. “Being able to make a couple baskets. I think Mikayla’s three’s were huge but I think we were able to jumpstart us by going to our full court press.”

With 6:27 left, Cal had an eight-point lead. It was then that Arizona turned up the heat defensively. Arizona allowed only three points in the final six minutes (zero in the final four) while going on a 10-3 run. Despite that run, Arizona failed to capitalize, missing a last-second shot that would have tied the game.

Cal only had one player (Mikayla Cowling - 19 including five triples) score in double figures, a testament to Arizona's smothering defense. Arizona's JaLea Bennett and Sam Thomas has 13 points a piece in the loss.

“I think it was us taking better shots. I think putting a little bit more pressure defensively,” Gottlieb expressed on her team’s turn around late in the game. “Some of it was we had really good shots and we just missed them. So we have to be able to make them.”

Even though majority of the game shots didn’t fall for the No. 23 team in the nation, they did make just enough to leave Arizona without being upset.

Arizona gets some time to rebound from the loss, as they don't see the court again until Jan. 12, when they visit Oregon. Cal will get a chance for a second straight conference win when they face Washington on Jan. 12.