BERKELEY -- As the Pac-12 Conference race tightened, Cal didn't look the part of contender on Wednesday night at Haas Pavilion.

Given the chance to move into a tie for second place, the Bears belly-flopped, losing 86-66 to No. 23 UCLA in front of 10,837 fans.

Cal never led and trailed by as many as 27 points in the second half, and UCLA prevailed by double digits over the Bears for the second time this season.

"At this juncture, you'd be really stupid to say they're not better than us," Cal coach Mike Montgomery said. "I would say this game takes us out of the opportunity to win the league. It was probably a long shot before."

Trailing conference-leader Arizona by three games with five to play, Montgomery said the Bears' priority is to secure a top-four finish and first-round bye in the Pac-12 tournament.

Certainly the Bears (17-9, 8-5) will have to play significantly better than this to assure themselves a bid to the NCAA tournament.

Cal returns to action Sunday at home against last-place USC, but even that offers no guarantees. The Trojans beat the Bears last month in Los Angeles.

"It's huge," Cal's Jordan Mathews said of the USC game. "Every game in this conference is big because it's such a tight race."

Sophomore wing Jordan Adams made 12 of 19 shots and scored 28 points for the Bruins (21-5, 10-3), who won their fourth consecutive game to stay one game back of Arizona. Point guard Kyle Anderson added 11 points, nine rebounds and seven assists, and Travis Wear contributed 13 points.

The Bruins shot 57 percent from the field and had just six turnovers, only one in the first half.

The Bears weren't nearly so efficient, despite the fact that freshman guards Mathews and Jabari Bird came off the bench to score 16 and 11 points, respectively.

Cal's five starters combined to shoot 10 for 30 and totaled just 32 points, barely half their season average. Starting guards Justin Cobbs and Tyrone Wallace made just 3 of 17 shots from the field.

The efforts of Mathews and Bird gave Montgomery no solace.

"I'm not too encouraged by anything right now," Montgomery said. "I'm not looking for silver linings. I'm looking for a basketball team that will compete and win."

For all their offensive troubles, the Bears had just as much difficulty on defense.

Adams and Anderson got whatever they wanted, and the Bears seemed especially disorganized midway through the second half when the Bruins blew the game open with an 18-3 run. Adams scored eight points in the surge that pushed the UCLA lead to 79-52 with 6:47 left.

The Bruins jumped out to a 16-6 lead to open the game and were up 44-32 at halftime after Adams nailed a 3-pointer with five seconds left in the half.

The Bruins seemed determined to keep their foot on the gas pedal all night.

The Bears got within nine points twice in the second half, the last time when Wallace scored on a breakaway dunk, making it 50-41 with 16:57 left.

Each time, the Bruins had an answer. They hiked the lead to 61-44 when Adams scored on a post-up over the smaller Mathews with 13:16 left, and their decisive onslaught was just around the corner.

In the first half, the Bears whittled a 12-point deficit down to 34-30 with just under 4 minutes left, only to watch the Bruins regain control.

"I just remember it being a close game and all of a sudden I look up and it's 12," Bird said. "I don't even know what happened."

For more on Cal sports, see the Bear Talk blog at ibabuzz.com/beartalk. Follow Jeff Faraudo on Twitter at twitter.com/JeffFaraudo.

SUNDAY'S GAME
USC (10-15, 1-11 Pac-12)
at Cal (17-9, 8-5),
5 p.m. Fox Sports 1