JOSE M. Romero, Associated Press
TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) — Coach Cuonzo Martin had a plan to defend Arizona State’s prolific long-range shooters, and his zone worked to near perfection Wednesday night.
The Golden Bears’ defense and guard Grant Mullins’ shooting helped Cal coast to a 68-43 win over the Sun Devils.
Mullins, a graduate transfer from Columbia, scored 18 points and Ivan Rabb had 14 points and 11 rebounds for Cal, winners of five straight games.
Mullins knocked down a season high six 3-pointers on nine attempts and Rabb recorded his 24th career double-double, but Cal’s defense shined just as bright. It held the Pac-12’s second-best scoring offense 38 points under its per-game average and by far the lowest point total of the season.
“From start to finish against a quality opponent,” Martin said. “To beat a Pac-12 team on their home floor the way we defended is very impressive. We might have played two possessions of man (defense). We felt like to give us the best chance to win the game, we had to play zone.”
Cal (18-6 overall, 9-3 Pac-12) led for the final 27 minutes of the game, while ASU suffered through its worst shooting night of the season, making just 15 of 59 shots for 25.4 percent. The Sun Devils (11-14, 4-8) were 3 of 25 from 3-point range and have lost three of their last four games.
Arizona State went almost 11 minutes without a made field goal between the first and second halves, and the drought proved costly. Cal went ahead by 20 points early in the first half, taking a 46-26 lead with 12:33 to play on a 3 from Mullins.
The Bears took a 24-point lead, 55-31, after another Mullins 3 at the 9:46 mark. They were never threatened in the second half and led by as many as 27.
“The past two games I think I was like 4 for 20,” said Mullins, who was actually 4 for 19 on 3s in wins over Utah and Colorado last week. “So it comes and goes. I just had the confidence from my coaches and teammates to keep shooting them, and that’s what I did.”
Cal took control of the game when Arizona State’s shooting went cold in the first half.
The Sun Devils turned an 11-4 deficit into a 15-14 lead, but failed to make another basket from the 7:38 mark to halftime.
The last two points the Sun Devils scored in the first half came on a pair of Obinna Oleka free throws with 6:27 left. Arizona State missed 11 straight shots but trailed by only 11, 28-17, at the break.
“You would think based on how we have played offense most of the year that we would be in pretty good shape,” Arizona State coach Bobby Hurley said, “but it was just one of those nights that we had this year if we are shooting the ball the way that we are shooting it, we are going to have a hard time being competitive.”
Oleka had 12 points and 14 rebounds.
The 17 first-half points was a season low for the Sun Devils.
Cal went on an 11-0 run to close the half while ASU struggled on offense, with Rabb’s eight points leading the way along with a 23-13 rebounding edge.
“Our performance, it was embarrassing, honestly,” ASU guard Kodi Justice said. “I just felt like people weren’t 100 percent ready.”
California: The Bears received votes in the AP top 25 poll this week, and seems likely to break into the top 25 with a sweep in the desert. Cal has No. 9 Arizona on Saturday and will host No. 5 Oregon later this month.
Arizona State: The Sun Devils still have a chance to get out of the bottom four of the Pac-12 and get a first-round bye in the conference tournament thanks to four of their final six regular-season games at home. ASU is 7-5 at home this season.
MORE THAN POINTS AND BOARDS
Rabb, the Bears’ preseason All-American, took only eight shots but added three assists and was key to the offense. “The ball had to go through Ivan and allow him to dictate the tempo offensively for us,” Martin said. “He made the right passes and found his bigs and he made plays on his own … We have to allow him to touch the ball to be successful.”
Actor Charlie Day (“It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” ”Horrible Bosses”) donned a neon green spandex outfit for appearances inside the Sun Devil student section’s Curtain of Distraction early in the second half. The students chanted his name, and the Bears went 4 for 6 at the line with Day in action.
California: At No. 9 Arizona on Saturday.
Arizona State: Host Stanford on Saturday.
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