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MN-Magic number to win regular-season title
z-Eliminated from regular-season title contention
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The Arizona Wildcats reduced their magic number to one to clinch the regular-season Pac-12 title tonight with an emphatic 87-59 payback victory over a Cal team that knocked them from their No. 1 perch earlier this month.
The Golden Bears, who beat the Wildcats 60-58 in Berkeley on Feb. 1, could not withstand Arizona’s knockout surge in the first half. The Wildcats (26-2 overall, 13-2 in the Pac-12) recovered in a bold way after making only 2 of their first 8 field goals as Cal took an 8-2 lead with 16:28 left in the first half.
Arizona's starting guards combine for 16 assists and one turnover. 15 boards as well.
It looked like Arizona would be in for another tussle with a Mike Montgomery-coached team, but the Wildcats rallied in transition to sap the confidence from the Golden Bears. Arizona made 10 of 14 from the field goals in one stretch with two dunks and three three-pointers in quick fashion to push the lead to 29-22 with 7:37 left in the half.
Montgomery was 5-4 with a two-game win streak against Arizona as Cal’s coach. He was 14-13 against Arizona since the 1995-96 season after starting 1-17 against the Wildcats at Stanford.
A UCLA loss or Arizona win guarantees the Wildcats at least a share of the Pac-12 regular-season title. The Wildcats hold the tie-breaker edge with a head-to-head victory over the Bruins.
In tonight’s game, Arizona ran the court and scored in transition unlike the game at Cal in which it appeared bogged down in its execution without Brandon Ashley, who tore a ligament in his right foot and was lost for the season in that game. The Wildcats made four consecutive field goals that included two Rondae Hollis-Jefferson dunks on the break to increase the lead to 37-23 with 4:40 left in the half.
By halftime, when the Wildcats led 49-24, Arizona was 18 of 36 from the field. The Wildcats were 20 of 62 in the entire game at Cal.
Arizona finished making 32 of 63 shots (50.8 percent) against Cal tonight. The Wildcats also made 17 of their 22 free throw attempts, a minor victory for a team that was shooting 65.6 from the stripe before the game.
Aaron Gordon, a 41.1 percent free throw shooter, made five of his six attempts from the stripe.
Cal made an early 11-0 run in the second half to cut the lead to 55-47 with 12:24 remaining in the first half.
TJ McConnell doesn't get enough attention nationally. His skill, competitiveness and spirit ignites all the talent around him at Arizona.
But the Wildcats pulled away with a 10-3 run behind a couple of T.J. McConnell jump shots. Cal did not come closer than 15 points thereafter.
Arizona had five players in double figures, led by Nick Johnson’s 22 points on 7 of 14 shooting from the field. He was 1 of 14 from the field at Cal.
Kaleb Tarczewski, celebrating his 21st birthday, finished with 16 points on 7 of 9 shooting. Hollis-Jefferson registered a double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds. Gordon and McConnell contributed 13 points apiece.
McConnell has posted 22 assists with only one turnover in the last three games against Utah, Colorado and Cal after having six in a loss at ASU on Feb. 14.
The game was played in front of NBA executives Danny Ainge and Flip Saunders. Ainge, a former Boston teammate of Bill Walton (who broadcast the game for ESPN2), is the Celtics’ president of basketball operations. Saunders holds the same title with Minnesota.