BERKELEY, Calif. — No matter what Arkansas did Monday night, nothing seemed to work on offense.
The Razorbacks fell into a big hole in the first half and couldn’t complete a comeback en route to a 75-64 loss to California in the second round of the National Invitational Tournament.
California (21-13) advances to the NIT quarterfinals to play No. 1 SMU in Dallas on Wednesday night. The winner will move on to the NIT’s Final Four in New York City on April 1-3. Arkansas ended its season with 22 wins, the most victories in three years under coach Mike Anderson.
“(Cal) came out hitting a lot of shots and we couldn’t hit anything,” Arkansas senior Kikko Haydar said. “We couldn’t get any stops, and when you dig yourself into a hole, you try to fight back, but we ran out of time.”
Guard Jabari Bird led California with 19 points and eight rebounds, while sophomore guard Tyrone Wallace had 16 points and junior forward David Kravish added 13. California shot 55.3 percent, which was its highest field goal percentage since Jan. 18.
Cal coach Mike Montgomery said his plan for Arkansas was to always stick with zone defense, something his team did in an 85-77 victory against the Razorbacks on Nov. 25 at the Maui Invitational.
“We actually worked for three days on covering the zone, trying to hit the high post,” Montgomery said. “(Arkansas) had 79 shots to our 47, so thank goodness they didn’t make a lot of them, but 17 offensive rebounds is a product of the zone.
“We’re not very big in the zone right now, so we challenge our guards to get rebounds and our guys did a terrific job.”
The Razorbacks (22-12) got several open looks from the perimeter against Cal’s zone, but didn’t have any success early. In fact, Arkansas missed 14 straight during a stretch that lasted 8 minutes, 32 seconds. Arkansas missed 30 shots in the first half and went 1-for-12 behind the three-point line, digging itself into a lopsided deficit.
Meanwhile, Cal added to its lead by getting the ball inside, mostly to Kravish, who finished the first half with nine points and five rebounds. Kravish also added three blocks, which makes 72 blocks this season, adding to his own single-season record.
Cal led 31-8 with 5:08 left before halftime after Bird drove the middle of the lane on a fast break, made a layup and was fouled by Arkansas senior guard Fred Gulley.
But the momentum changed a few seconds later when Gulley got the ball in the right corner, drove the baseline and dunked one-handed over Cal guard Jeff Powers. Game officials initially called a charge against Gulley, but later overturned it to a block against Powers, giving Gulley the chance to complete the 3-point play.
“I told the guys at halftime that we have to attack,” Anderson said. “Our first play was a dunk in the first half, and so now why do you go away from what’s working? I thought we were just trying to win with offense. We were shooting perimeter shots and (Cal) was laying it up over on the other end. We just didn’t attack the zone properly.”
Arkansas went on to end the first half on a 15-7 run and pull within 15 at the break.
In the second half, Arkansas closed within eight points when guard Ky Madden hit a jumper in the lane with 3:58 left. But that was the closest it got for the Razorbacks, who finished the game shooting 25 of 78 (32 percent).
Madden led the way for Arkansas with 15 points and five rebounds while both Bobby Portis and Alandise Harris had 12.
Portis said despite the loss, winning more than 20 games and making a postseason tournament should gives fans hope the program is headed in the right direction.
“It gives our team and our state hope that Razorback basketball is back,” said Portis, who confirmed he’ll be back at Arkansas for his sophomore season. “It gives the players some confidence for next year also.”