Allen Crabbe’s last basket was like most of his other 29 points: A thing of beauty.
With Arizona having climbed back within 71-69 on a 3-point shot by Mark Lyons with 2:02 to go, McKale Center rocking, eager to see another comeback from the Cardiac Cats, Crabbe answered with the play of the game.
He had the ball near the top of the key, and dribbled right. Arizona’s Solomon Hill was erased on a screen, leaving the defensive assignment to 6-10 freshman Grant Jerrett. Crabbe took the ball to the baseline, elevated, hung in the air, and put up a contested floater over Jerrett.
The ball took a bounce off the rim … and fell in.
It was that kind of night for Crabbe.
Arizona, now trailing by two possessions, missed three shots near the rim on its next possession, followed by Justin Cobbs going the other way for a layup. No McKale miracles for Arizona. Cal squashed the comeback attempt and won 77-69 in a game in which Crabbe scored 31 points and made 12 of 15 shots.
“Allen Crabbe is a great player,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said.
“It wasn’t even close how much he dominated the game and the activity. He is truly a great player. Today, I think he showed everyone in a performance like that how special he is. We had no answer for him.”
Arizona’s perimeter stopper, Nick Johnson, tried. But he was giving up three inches to the 6-6 Crabbe and wasn’t up to the task. Hill had his turns, too. Arizona usually switches on screens and handoffs, so several Cats had their chance against Crabbe, who entered the game leading the Pac-12 with a scoring average of 19.3 points per game.
But he had never had a conference performance like this.
Crabbe made 3-pointers right in Johnson’s face, including one that barely beat the shot clock. He had a four-point play one time when Johnson fouled him on a shot from behind the arc. Crabbe turned in a key basket at the end of the first half, scoring with one second left on a fast-break layup after a steal to trim Cal’s halftime deficit to 38-33.
Arizona had been looking to end the half with a nine- or 10-point lead.
Cal carried the momentum through the break, starting the second half on a 17-2 run in which Crabbe scored 11 points.
“I don’t know how to explain this feeling. It’s wonderful,” Crabbe said.
“To come in and play a No. 7-ranked team in front of a sold-out crowd and upset them out of nowhere is something. Arizona is the only team I haven’t beaten in the Pac-12, and to do it here in their house is a great feeling.
“I can’t think of any other moment in my college memory that felt this great.”
His 31 points were the most by a UA opponent this season. The previous high was 24 by Stanford’s Dwight Powell on Wednesday night.
“He played tremendously well tonight,” said Cobbs, who added 21 points.
“The team fed off him and his energy. He played with confidence and he’s tough to stop. When he gets aggressive and sets his mind to score, he’s unstoppable.”
Crabbe and Cobbs combined to make 20 of 29 shots. Cal shot 58.8 percent (30 of 51).
“I tell you 30 of 51 is about as big of a punch as you can take,” Miller said. “They played the best against our defense as any team has played this season.”
Hill and Kevin Parrom talked about how they should have asked to take on a bigger defensive role against Crabbe because of their superior size to Johnson. Maybe that would have helped. Maybe not.
“Nick has done an outstanding job all season as our go-to defender,” Miller said.
“He ran into a player tonight who made some really tough shots. Allen is taller; certainly his size advantage helped. But if you watch the game closely … we switched quite a bit.
“It didn’t matter. He also got a lot of points in transition. He scored off backdoor cuts. He just did a fantastic job.”