BERKELEY, Calif. — When the Arizona Wildcats were 21-0 and ranked No. 1 at the end of January, it seemed everyone else in the Pac-12 was playing for second place.
However, No. 23 UCLA made a race of it since then, and the Bruins’ 86-66 rout of the California Golden Bears on Wednesday at Haas Pavilion suggested UCLA may be the best team in the conference at the moment.
Guard Jordan Adams poured in 28 points for UCLA, which won its fourth straight game, all by double-digit margins.
“I thought this was as well as we’ve played in a while,” UCLA coach Steve Alford said. “If we had made our free throws it would have been nearly a flawless game.”
The Bruins (21-5, 10-3 Pac-12) were just 12-of-22 from the foul line, but they shot 57 percent from the floor and committed just six turnovers.
They remained one game behind Arizona, which struggled to beat Utah in overtime on Wednesday in Salt Lake City.
Cal (17-9, 8-5) could have tied UCLA for second place in Pac-12 with a win, but the Bears’ top three scorers — guards Tyrone Wallace and Justin Cobbs and forward Richard Solomon — shot a combined 4-of-21. No Cal starter scored more than eight points.
“I would say this game takes us out of an opportunity to win the conference,” Cal coach Mike Montgomery said. “It may have been a long shot anyway.
“They were certainly a better team than us tonight. It’s unfortunate UCLA doesn’t play Arizona again.”
Arizona beat UCLA in their only regular-season meeting Jan. 9, and because of the unbalanced conference schedule, UCLA and Arizona do not face each other a second time.
“We have five games left, so we’re in the race, we’re in the discussion,” Alford said. “We don’t play Arizona again, so we need some help, but we’re in the discussion.
“The biggest question is whether you’re playing well at this stage of the season, and the answer for us, is, yes, we’re playing well.”
Forward Travis Wear scored 13 points on 6 of 8 shooting for the Bruins, who scored the first six points of the game and never trailed.
“From the get-go we really put it on them,” Wear said. “We’ve been playing well and it’s the perfect time to be doing it.”
Adams shot 12-for-19 from the field, including 2-for-3 on 3-pointers, and also had six rebounds and five assists. UCLA guard/forward Kyle Anderson had 11 points, nine rebounds and seven assists.
Freshman guard Jordan Mathews came off the bench to lead the Bears with 16 points. Another Cal reserve, freshman guard Jabari Bird, added 11 points.
“They’re playing great basketball right now,” Mathews said of UCLA. “They’re playing at a high level.”
Cal is still in position to land an NCAA Tournament berth, but a win over UCLA would have solidified its standing.
UCLA increased a 12-point halftime lead to 17 points when Adams muscled in a 5-foot shot with 13:16 left.
Cal quickly cut the deficit to 61-49 when Mathews hit a 3-point shot from the corner.
However, UCLA remained in control and extended its lead to 21 points when Adams converted three-point play and a fast-break layup to make it 71-50 at the 9:22 mark.
The margin grew to 24 points with 7:28 left, and UCLA led by as many as 27 points in the closing minutes.
Cobbs, Cal’s leading scorer for the season, managed just seven points on 2-of-8 shooting. Wallace, the Bear’s No. 2 scorer, had five points on 1-of-9 shooting.
“I’m not encouraged by anything right now,” Montgomery said.
NOTES: UCLA beat Cal 76-64 on Jan. 26 at Pauley Pavilion in the teams’ first meeting this season. … Cal owns a win this season over the first-place team in the Pac-12 (Arizona) and a loss to the last-place team (USC). The Bears host the Trojans on Sunday. … UCLA lost each of their previous three games at Cal’s Haas Pavilion before Wednesday. … Bruins 6-foot-9 G Kyle Anderson leads the conference in assists and is sixth nationally in that category, averaging 6.8 assists per game heading into Wednesday’s game. … Wednesday’s game was the 236th meeting between the teams. …
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