BERKELEY, Calif. — Every time Arizona had been challenged this season, the Wildcats survived by making big plays and big shots in the closing moments of big games.
They finally found out what it feels like to be on other end of a celebration.
Justin Cobbs hit a step-back jumper with 0.9 seconds left, and California stunned No. 1 Arizona 60-58 on Saturday night to hand the Wildcats their first loss of the season.
“We’d always found a way to be on the positive end of it,” Wildcats coach Sean Miller said. “Tonight in that same moment, we didn’t make the shots and we didn’t get the big stop.”
Cobbs, who scored Cal’s final 12 points, dribbled to his left and beat Nick Johnson before pulling up in front of an oncoming defender to sink the winning shot that sent a raucous, gold-shirt wearing crowd at Haas Pavilion spilling onto the court.
Not realizing a timeout had been called, Cal coach Mike Montgomery and security had to frantically usher fans away before the final play.
Gabe York’s full-court pass was knocked down to give the Bears (15-7, 6-3 Pac-12) their first victory over a top-ranked opponent since Jan. 30, 1994, when they beat UCLA 85-70 at the Oakland Coliseum.
“I think it’s just good for Cal, and I think it’s good for the university and the students to come out and have that kind of excitement,” Montgomery said. “I think one of the things you’re trying to generate is them enjoying the game, enjoying the experience, and I think there was some of that tonight.”
Arizona (21-1, 8-1), which had won a school-record 21 consecutive games after surviving to beat Stanford 60-57 on Wednesday night, was one of just three unbeaten teams left in Division I. Now only second-ranked Syracuse (21-0), which outlasted No. 17 Duke 91-89 in overtime Saturday, and No. 4 Wichita State (23-0) remain.
The Bears improved to 3-24 against teams ranked No. 1 in The Associated Press poll, and they had never beaten a top-ranked team in Berkeley.
“Just a lot of fun,” Solomon said.
Kaleb Tarczewski scored a career-high 18 points and grabbed six rebounds, and T.J. McConnell scored 13 points for the Wildcats, who shot just 32.3 percent from the floor. Cal, which shot 44.6 percent, held Johnson — Arizona’s star guard — to just 4 points on 1-of-14 shooting.
“Because we’ve been in this situation so many times, we’re really comfortable. We weren’t worried at all. We were ramped up,” Tarczewski said. “Cobbs made a really, really tough shot.”
The game attracted quite an audience, too.
There were 21 scouts from 14 different NBA teams in attendance. Former Wildcats coach Lute Olson sat in the stands behind Arizona’s bench, and Oakland Athletics manager Bob Melvin — a former Cal baseball player — also supported his Bears.
“No. 1 brings out everybody,” Montgomery said.
The Wildcats rallied from nine points down in the first half and eight in the second to set up a furious finish.
Arizona took the lead twice in the final minutes, and twice Cobbs came back with a tying score — first on a runner in the lane and then on a pair of free throws.
On the final sequence, Johnson missed a short jumper in the lane and Cal corralled the rebound. Cobbs let the clock tick down, then beat Johnson for a shot that will long be remembered in Berkeley.
Fans had to be pushed back off the court in a weird and wild scene, with the public address announcer screaming for them to get back. The Bears soon gave them reason to come back and celebrate.
“Honestly I was getting claustrophobic,” Cobbs said, laughing. “I couldn’t breathe.”
The Bears kept Arizona’s big front line at bay from the start.
Solomon made his first six shots, including a short jumper that put the Bears ahead 28-19 late with 5:18 remaining in the first half. Arizona answered back by converting steals into easy baskets, closing the half on a 10-2 run to cut Cal’s lead to 30-29.
It was the seventh time Arizona had trailed at the half this season.
Both teams had to overcome adversity after the break. Johnson seemed to be bothered by an injury to his left hand — repeatedly shaking his wrist after shots and grimacing — and Solomon was stuck in foul trouble.
In the end, Cal just made one more play than Arizona.
“We made plays to put us in that position,” McConnell said. “But Cobbs made a good shot down the stretch.”