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Both of these teams remember the first matchup pretty well. It was the game that ended with a Justin Cobbs game-winner and also the game that Brandon Ashley got hurt in. It was also Arizona's first loss of the season after a 21-0 start.
Even with that win, California isn't exactly a shoe-in for the Big Dance. They are floating around as a 9 or 10 seed at the moment with losses to USC and UCSB hurting them a bit. With a sweep over Arizona, the Golden Bears would surely lock in their bid for March.
As for the Wildcats, they are starting to come around a bit and figuring out how to play without Ashley in the lineup. While they have two losses, a No. 1 seed is still in sight if the end of the season goes to plan. They are coming off two nice road wins at Utah and a 27-point beat down at Colorado.
Those last two wins have come with a new starting lineup as Gabe York was shifted into Rondae Hollis-Jefferson's spot. York scored 15 points at Utah and then grabbed 10 rebounds against Colorado. But the effect of Hollis-Jefferson coming off the bench may be a bigger factor. While he has gotten into foul trouble the last two games, he provides some excitement off the 'Zona bench which wasn't the case with York. The main problem with that Ashley injury is that they have a short squad and Elliott Pitts is the only other player getting minutes in the second unit, and even his are limited.
In that first matchup, Arizona's Nick Johnson had one of his worst games of the year. He finished with four points while shooting 1-of-14 from the field to go along with five turnovers. It's almost a guarantee that won't happen again. However, California still had trouble dealing with Arizona's size, even without Ashley.
Kaleb Tarczewski had 18 points in that game, with 12 of them coming from free throws, and while Aaron Gordon didn't have a great scoring game, he finished with 13 boards and six assists. It wouldn't be surprising to see Cali's freshman Kameron Rooks see more time in this one as he's a 7-footer.
California's defense on the edges was also a big part of that first game. Justin Cobbs, Tyron Wallace, Jordan Matthews and Jabari Bird all have size in the backcourt and already showed they can be a problem for Johnson and T.J. McConnell. It's going to take another big effort from Cobbs and Wallace, Cali's top two leading scorers, to win on the road.
Down low for the Golden Bears, David Kravish and Richard Solomon did well in that first game combining for 26 points and 18 rebounds. However, Solomon got into foul trouble and ended up only playing 25 minutes. If they don't let Tarczewski beat them, this is another game that could come down to the end.
The Wildcats have yet to lose at home this year which just shows the incredible task the Golden Bears have with this one. But the fact that California already has some confidence against Arizona should help a bit. Although, Arizona probably isn't too happy about that first loss either.
Predicted Score - Arizona 77 California 58
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