Entering McKale Center with the 15th-worst defense in the country and 14 straight losses, Cal was the perfect cure for Arizona on Thursday.
Despite some early shooting struggles, the Wildcats hit 58.6 percent of their shots in the second half, including 7 of 16 3-pointers, while smashing the Bears 76-51. The win ended UA’s seven-game losing streak, its longest since 1982-83.
Cal entered the game allowing the highest field goal percentage (50.3) of all 351 Division I teams, the fifth-highest 3-point percentage (39.2), and was giving up 114.1 points per 100 possessions, making it the 15th-least efficient defense in Kenpom terms.
The woeful Bears tried a zone defense that initially caused UA some trouble, but Ryan Luther led the way as the Wildcats eventually solved it with ease. Luther tied his season-highs in scoring (19) and 3-pointers made (five) to lead the Wildcats while also collecting five rebounds.
Chase Jeter had 13 points and seven rebounds, while Devonaire Doutrive had 11 points, six rebounds and three assists.
The win moved Arizona to 15-12 overall and 6-8 in the Pac-12, heading into a Sunday game against Stanford. In losing their 15th straight game, and 22nd overall in Pac-12 play, Cal dropped to 5-21 and 0-14.
Up by 10 at halftime, the Wildcats led just 32-25 after an early 3-pointer from Cal center Connor Vanover and a fast-break layup from point guard Paris Austin. But Luther then scored eight straight points, hitting a midrange jumper from 12 feet out, then hitting two 3-pointers, the last right in front of a giddy UA bench.
Justin Coleman also hit a 3-pointer during the Wildcats' 11-0 run, and they led 43-25 with 16:17 left.
Cal later came back to creep within 12 points, 47-35, after a 3-pointer from Matt Bradley, but the Wildcats had 3s from Luther, Doutrive and Dylan Smith during a 90-second span midway through the second half to take a 58-40 lead.
The Wildcats wound up with a 14-0 run after Alex Barcello added a 3-pointer and Doutrive drove inside for a layup.
In the first half, Arizona took a 30-20 halftime lead but shot just 38.5 percent and hit only 4 of 15 3-pointers while committing three turnovers in the first five minutes.
Luther led the Wildcats with six points on two 3-pointers while also collecting five rebounds. Ira Lee scored six points on three dunks but missed a pair of free throws with five seconds left in the half.
The Bears shot only 24 percent from the field and made only six baskets for the half. They were 2 of 13 from 3-point range in the first half.
Both teams came out of the gate looking shaky. Cal shot 2 of 8 through the first media timeout while UA was 2 for 7 and each team had three turnovers.
All those miscues led to just nine total points scored over the first five and a half minutes, with Cal leading 5-4. But the Wildcats found Lee through the Cal zone defense for dunks three times over the next four-minute segment, leading to a 17-9 lead with 7:18 to go; a 3-pointer from Devonaire Doutrive also helped UA pull ahead.
At that point, Cal had missed 10 of its past 11 shots for the field while going 3 of 18 overall and missing 9 of 10 3-pointers.
The Bears pulled within 27-20 into the final minute after Juhwan Harris-Dyson hit a 3-pointer but Ryan Luther answered on the other end with a 3 of his own to put UA ahead 30-20 with 47 seconds left.