Date: Sunday. Time: 5 p.m., Tucson time.
Location: Olson Court, McKale Center (14,538), Tucson, Ariz.
Radio: IMG College/Wildcat Radio Network (Brian Jeffries/Corey Williams)
TV: Pac-12 Networks (Ted Robinson/Matt Muehlebach)
Mike Montgomery comes to town with a 5-16 record against the Wildcats in McKale Center, but to some Arizona followers, it feels like 16-5. He won his last four games at McKale Center with Stanford from 2001-2004 after going 1-14 in his first 15 trips to Tucson. He has lost at McKale in two games as Cal’s coach. With this being McKale’s 40th anniversary, it’s fitting to rate the best game between Arizona and a Montgomery-coached team in Tucson. My vote: On Jan. 28, 1999, the 13th-ranked Wildcats upset No. 3 Stanford 79-78 when eventual national player of the year Jason Terry took the inbounds pass, dribbled upcourt and made a 360-degree spinning jumper with 3.4 seconds left to put the Cats ahead. Terry scored 29 points as Arizona won its 25th consecutive game at McKale. After Terry’s basket and a timeout, Montgomery designed a play to get the ball to Kris Weems, but his desperation shot from the backcourt under pressure fell 10 feet short of the rim. Arizona’s fans rushed the court in an unusual display for a program that had a 166-10 record at McKale since the 1987-88 season. The Wildcats, averaging 18 turnovers a game (sound familiar?), had only six against the Cardinal that night.
To give you more of an appreciation of Terry’s skills: UA sophomore guard Nick Johnson leads the Pac-12 with 2.1 steals per game, 47 steals overall. Terry owns the UA season record with 85 steals as a sophomore reserve in 1996-97 (Arizona’s NCAA title season). Johnson, who ranks 43rd nationally in steals, is on pace to record 64 by the end of the Pac-12 regular season. Mike Bibby and Hassan Adams share the record for most steals in a Pac-10/12 season. They each had 46 (Bibby in 1997-98 and Adams in 2004-05). Johnson presently has 19 in conference games and he’s on pace for 34.2 over the course of the final eight regular-season games.
Johnson and Solomon Hill will likely draw the defensive assignment on 6-foot-6-inch shooting guard Allen Crabbe, who leads the Pac-12 with 19.3 points per game. If Crabbe, a junior guard returns to the Golden Bears next season, and doesn’t succumb to the temptation of the NBA, he will become Cal’s all-time leading scorer. Crabbe ranks 15th on Cal’s career scoring list with 1,354 points, only 481 behind record-holder Jerome Randle, who scored 1,835 from 2007-2010. Crabbe achieved his 1,000th career point in his 68th game, 19 games less than it took Randle to reach the mark. Because of the unbalanced Pac-12 schedule, Crabbe and the Golden Bears did not play at McKale Center last season. Crabbe led the Golden Bears with 17 points as a freshman when Cal lost 73-71 at McKale Center in 2010-11. DraftExpress.com forecasts Crabbe as a second-round selection, 41st overall in this year’s NBA draft. Hill, a senior, ranks one spot ahead of him.
Arizona’s elements of supreme success: Out-rebound opponents (especially at McKale Center), lead at halftime, shoot better than 50 percent, shoot better than the opponent, commit less turnovers than the opponent, lead or be tied with five minutes remaining in the second half, and score 80 points or more. If the Wildcats did that, they would be undefeated every season under Sean Miller. In each of these categories this season, the Wildcats are unbeaten. They are 9-0 when out-rebounding opponents at McKale Center, 15-0 overall when leading at the half, 4-0 when shooting 50 percent or better, 14-0 when shooting better than the opponent, 13-0 when committing the same or less amount of turnovers, 17-0 when tied or leading with five minutes left in the second half and 7-0 when scoring 80 points or more. The most impressive element: The 17-0 record when tied or leading with five minutes left in the second half. What it means: Arizona’s depth and balance comes into play with fresh legs against teams with players who log more minutes. Arizona is 78-4 in Miller’s four years after leading or being tied with five minutes left in the second half. The Wildcats are 11-33 when trailing at that mark. Keep track of what the score is with five minutes remaining.
One positive for the Pac-12 is the number of skilled freshmen in the league. The most overlooked is Cal’s 6-4 guard Tyrone Wallace. He earned a starting role in Cal’s 10th game and has played at least 25 minutes in 15 of the Bears’ last 16 games. Sign of good things to come: In his first start against Cal-Santa Barbara Dec. 18, he posted his ﬁrst career double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds. He has scored a career-best 16 points against Washington State and Arizona State (three days ago in Tempe). Since Wallace was inserted into the starting lineup 13 games ago, he has averaged 8 points, 5 rebounds and 3 assists. Wallace plays his best against good competition. He had a career-best three steals to go along with 12 points in a career-long 38 minutes vs. No. 10 Oregon. He collected 10 rebounds to go along with eight points vs. No. 13 Creighton.
PAC-12 RPI ASSESSMENT
RPI based on CBSSports.com
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*-Wins vs. Top 50 teams
**-Losses vs. Top 100 teams or higher
SOS-Strength of schedule
Site publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner