Arizona basketball: Wildcats don't have an Allen Crabbe, can they survive without one?
As Allen Crabbe walked up the court, he had a smile on his face.
The crowd at McKale Center was quiet, as the unranked Golden Bears were putting the finishing touches on a 77-69 upset against No. 7 Arizona.
He missed his free throw, the first in a one-and-one, but that was a blip on the radar after a night of near-perfection from Crabbe.
“Man, I don’t even know how to explain this feeling,” said Crabbe after the win, his first against Arizona in three years at Cal.
The junior guard scored 31 points on 12-of-15 shooting, and added seven rebounds and five assists.
He only missed three shots.
At the tail end of a 17-2 second-half opening, Crabbe even converted on a four-point play and gave the Golden Bears its game-high 10-point lead.
“I just knew that it was definitely a good night, for that to go in,” said Crabbe, the Pac-12’s leading scorer. “I just kept shooting the ball, my teammates got me where I wanted it and I made plays for my team.”
Cal guard Justin Cobbs, who scored 21 points of his own, recalled a game against Washington State in 2011 as the only time he’s seen a performance on par with Crabbe’s on Sunday night, where Klay Thompson lit Cal up for 36 points.
“He’s truly a great player,” Arizona head coach Sean Miller said. “Today I think he showed everybody with a performance like that how special he really is. We had no answer for him.”
That begs the question, who is Arizona’s great player?
Derrick Williams was a great player. Klay Thompson was a great player. Miller says Crabbe is a great player.
But who is a great player for the Wildcats?
“Hill is a go-to guy for them,” said Cal coach Mike Montgomery, pointing to the matchup problems UA forward Solomon Hill poses.
Hill is a good player, but he’s certainly not a great one.
He has a much-improved 3-pointer, but he disappears for long stretches of games and never seems take over even when he has the hot hand.
Sure, he hit six first-half 3-pointers against Washington State, but he also scored zero points in the second half and the Cougars are mediocre at best.
He’s scored 20 or more points twice this year, and six times in 127 games.
I don’t think not having a “go-to”, “score on anyone” type player is this team’s largest issue — that would be breaking zone defenses and defending 3-pointers — but it is the reason why Arizona will always keep games close against reasonably decent opponents, instead of playing dominantly like a Top 10 ranking would indicate they would.
(Although, the rankings are beginning to feel more and more irrelevant with each passing upset — Cal was the fifth non-ranked team to beat a Top-7 team in the last week.)
It’s because of this that Arizona will have trouble digging themselves out of double-digit holes that have become a Cardiac ‘Cats staple.
They’ll destroy an Oregon State or a Wazzu, but they’ll also have moments of alarming struggle against decent teams like Cal, Colorado and Stanford.
I know, they came back against Florida and destroyed Miami, but that was in December, not in March.
What if Arizona were to fall behind an opponent like Duke in the NCAA tournament?
Let’s say the Wildcats fell behind by 11 points with six minutes left in the first half.
Arizona doesn’t have a Williams, the kind of person capable of scoring 10 points in the next three minutes to bring it within four, and 21 other points to turn a large deficit into an Arizona blowout.
“He’s capable of it at any time,” Montgomery said of Crabbe.
I’m not sure anyone on Arizona is, though.
Point guard Mark Lyons is the most capable of going for 20 points on a given night, which he’s done six times, and he can hit a game-winner with the best of them. But, in March, that might not be enough.
Still, Arizona has been just fine with six or seven good players, instead of one great one.
The Wildcats are 20-3 and fighting for a one seed. California is 14-9 and is likely NIT-bound, and that’s nothing to be mad about.
“It’s tough to win every game,” Miller said.