The Arizona Wildcats saved their semi-habitual slow start for the second half Sunday, and that only made things worse.
In a 77-69 loss to California, the Wildcats quickly coughed up a five-point halftime lead and trailed by 10 after less than five minutes. They were flustered by a zone defense the Bears came out with in the second half, and all but blown away on the other end of the court by Pac-12 scoring leader Allen Crabbe.
Crabbe had 19 points in the second half to finish with 31, the most any opposing player has scored against the Wildcats all season, while backcourt mate Justin Cobbs pitched in with another 21.
The two of them helped Cal shoot an unconscious 58.8 percent from the field, by far the most Arizona has allowed all season, while the Wildcats shot only 39.3 percent.
During Cal's soul-crushing 17-2 run to open the second half, the Wildcats missed eight of their first nine shots against the Bears' matchup-like zone.
"We had that deer-in-the-headlights look against it," UA coach Sean Miller said. "It was like a double-edged sword where they were knifing our defense and scoring every single possession - and we weren't executing against their zone."
Miller said he was "really disappointed" in the game-changing four-plus minutes at the beginning of the second half.
At the end of it, Cal had a 50-40 lead that it never relinquished. Arizona cut the Bears' lead to just 68-66 with 2:48 left but Cobbs hit a three-pointer and later made two free throws with 30 seconds left to seal Cal's win.
To senior forward Solomon Hill, who had 13 points while playing 38 minutes, it was a different feel than the six previous games when the Wildcats had trailed after the first four minutes.
A more desperate feel, with less time to recover, and Crabbe hitting difficult shots all over the court.
"We were up by five (at halftime) and the next thing you know, you look up and we're down by 10," Hill said. "You just can't really rally against something like that. We made a couple of rallies against it but we just got down too late."
The loss snapped Arizona's four-game winning streak and took away its chance to make a big jump in The Associated Press Top 25 poll after four of the six teams ahead of the Wildcats also lost over the past week.
What's more, the loss pushed the Wildcats back into a first-place tie in the Pac-12 race with Oregon and UCLA at 8-3. Seventh-ranked Arizona is now 20-3 overall while Cal improved to 14-9 and 6-5.
Not only was the win almost a must for the Bears' NCAA tournament hopes but it was also a nice chance for Crabbe to show off his offensive skills against the conference's top-rated team.
Crabbe accumulated his 31 points on 12-for-15 shooting, made 4 of 7 three-pointers, while collecting seven rebounds and five assists yet turning the ball over only twice.
"It wasn't even close how much he dominated the game and the action," Miller said. "He's truly a great player. I think he really showed everybody how special he is. We had no answer for him."
Scoring a bunch of points, of course, is nothing new for Crabbe. He entered the game with the Pac-12 scoring lead, with an average of 19.3 points, and he had scored 25 or more in five previous games.
But this was something else altogether.
"To get them here with them being ranked seventh and at there house?" Crabbe said. "It's a great feeling."
Cal coach Mike Montgomery said he felt Crabbe passed up shots where "he didn't force it," and Miller also gave him credit for making several difficult shots.
However, the Wildcats may have also helped his cause.
For one, the 6-6 Crabbe was mostly guarded by 6-3 Nick Johnson and, even though Miller noted that the Wildcats switched often, Hill said he needed to take more responsibility in guarding Crabbe.
"I should have switched with Nick," Hill said. Crabbe is "a taller guy. We were asking too much of Nick at times. When (Crabbe) raises his jump shot, Nick can only do so much.
"We can't expect Nick to shut down somebody who's 6-6, comes off curl screens, and can elevate on his jump shot. This was a chance for me and Kevin (Parrom) to step up and guard him."
Another possible factor helping Crabbe: That the Wildcats' frustration on offense may have carried over to the other side.
"When you don't get things rolling on the offensive end - you miss a couple shots, couple easy ones - and it takes you away from the game mentally," Hill said.
"You get frustrated. You may be talking to the ref about a call and Crabbe's looking for a three.
"It did affect us. It shouldn't. Because you're going to make shots, and you're going to miss shots. But defense is something you can do."
• What: Arizona at Colorado
• When: 8 p.m. Thursday
• TV: Pac-12 Arizona
• Radio: 1290-AM, 107.5-FM