By Sam McPherson

The game was over well before halftime, and with that reality, the California men’s basketball team realized they weren’t going to finish Pac-12 league play on a high note. The Golden Bears had been eyeing an Arizona sweep to get to .500 in conference play, but the No. 5-ranked Arizona Wildcats put an end to that idea very quickly on Thursday night in Tucson.

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After losing 99-60 to the Pac-12 regular-season champions, the Bears must now regroup and try to win a consolation prize on Saturday: the matchup against Arizona State in Tempe. If Cal can do that and finish the regular season with an 18-13 record, it will give the team a little more confidence heading into the Pac-12 Tournament next week.

The Bears know they have a shot at a postseason spot in the National Invitation Tournament, but to get a bid to the NCAA Tournament now, Cal will have to win the league tournament. That looks less likely after a 39-point blowout loss to the best team in the Pac-12 this year.

Tyrone Wallace scored 16 points, and Sam Singer added 13 himself to pace the Bears on the scoring side. Meanwhile, Christian Behrens led the team with 10 rebounds. But Arizona (27-3) had six players score in double digits as they shot almost 57 percent from the floor. It was 48-27 at halftime, and the Wildcats tacked on 51 more points in the second half to waltz to the win.

Cal has now lost four of its last five games after the team had won five straight previously. Toss in the fact that the Bears had lost six in a row before that five-game win streak, and it’s clear to see what kind of year it’s been for the team.

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These kinds of momentum swings certainly are maddening, and the Bears now have to figure out how to beat Arizona State — a team they lost to by 35 points at home earlier this season, even though the Sun Devils are just 16-14 on the year.

Currently, Cal sits in eighth place in the Pac-12 with a 7-10 conference mark, and Arizona State is in sixth with an 8-9 league record. However, the Sun Devils did pull off a huge upset this year at home over their in-state rivals, pinning a three-point loss on the Wildcats. 

The Bears haven’t achieved anything like that themselves this year, with their best win coming over UCLA in early February. The Bruins are in fourth place in the Pac-12.

So, as Cal looks to close the season with a win and find some consistency in their play, the team knows they have a long way to go before the program can bill itself as a legitimately competitive outfit in the Pac-12 conference and beyond.

Beating the Sun Devils on Saturday would be a good start, of course. But Arizona State want to win, too, and after the Sun Devils beat Stanford last night — in a game the Cardinal definitely needed to win if they wanted to make the NCAA Tournament — it’s clear the Bears will have their hands full in the state of Arizona once again.

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Sam McPherson is a freelance writer covering all things Oakland A’s. His work can be found on Examiner.com.