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Gabe York’s second-half performance, 19 points including the go-ahead three-pointer with 19 seconds left, was the difference for Arizona in its 64-61 win over Cal.
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Arizona was down eight points with less than two minutes left. Cal’s bench was in full celebration after Tyrone Wallace’s swooping drive to the basket. The life was sucked out of McKale Center.
The Wildcats were on their way to their third consecutive loss, a streak Sean Miller has not endured since his first season at Arizona in 2009-10. Miller’s beleaguered team was staring at having to play four games in four days in next week’s Pac-12 tournament.
That’s when Gabe York — ridiculed by Arizona fans for his blunders in late-game situations this season — joined the likes of Eddie Smith, Nic Wise, Mark Lyons and other clutch performers in Wildcat lore when it appeared Arizona was destined for a loss.
Games like this rekindle memories of Arizona’s greatest escapes.
York’s 19-point performance in the second half makes Wildcat followers think of unfathomable performances by shooters like Michael Dickerson (25 of his 30 points after halftime on 11-of-11 shooting against Washington in 1998) and Damon Stoudamire (33 points in the second half and two overtimes at Washington State in 1995).
The Wildcats, down 61-53 with 1:52 left in the game against Cal, scored 11 unanswered points behind York’s two three-pointers, including the go-ahead long-range shot with 19 seconds left.
It all seemed so scripted with fellow senior Kaleb Tarczewski grabbing the last pivotal defensive rebound with one second remaining on an evening in which Cal commanded the boards 44-31. No chance for a putback by the dominant Ivan Rabb following a miss by Wallace with Tarczewski muscling his way to the rebound, his 12th of the game. With that last rebound, Tarczewski joined the top five rebounders in Arizona history with 837 in his career.
History is an appropriate word to associate with this game.
The three-point line was not instituted yet when Eddie Smith led an Arizona rally against ASU in Tempe in 1985 after the Wildcats trailed 60-53 with 37 seconds left. York made two three-pointers in crunch time tonight. Smith converted two pivotal three-point plays down the stretch in the improbable 61-60 win over the Sun Devils 31 years ago.
Arizona trailed by 10 points with 52 seconds left in regulation against Houston in 2009 in the infamous game in which Chase Budinger’s face was stepped on. The Wildcats won in overtime 96-90 behind Jordan Hill’s 30 points.
The victory over Florida two seasons ago was similar with the Wildcats overcoming a six-point deficit with less than a minute left. Lyons made the game-winning shot in that game with seven seconds left. York became the latest Arizona player to win a game-winning pressure-filled shot, joining the likes of Salim Stoudamire and Jason Terry.
“The biggest point I want to make is I don’t think I’ve seen a performance like I saw in the second half by Gabe York,” Miller told Brian Jeffries during the KCUB (1290-AM) postgame show. “To see him do it under this type of pressure is a memory I’ll never lose. We were dead in the water but kept fighting until the end.”
“I’m not someone that’s about myself, but for me this is probably number one,” York told the media about his top game at Arizona, his career now down to his last home game Saturday afternoon against Stanford.
Tonight’s improbable victory has many ramifications in addition to its historic significance.
Arizona has caught fire again after the consecutive losses at Colorado and Utah. The Wildcats are now in position to be the No. 3 seed in the Pac-12 tournament, if they beat Stanford and Cal is upset by ASU on Saturday. That means Arizona would not face top-seed Oregon until the title game. The Wildcats would play against No. 2 Utah in the semifinals if the teams reach that far.
With the win, Arizona improves its NCAA tournament resume, beating an RPI Top 25 team for the first time this season. Cal was rated No. 15 entering the game. The Wildcats were 0-3 against the RPI Top 25 before the victory. Now the Wildcats are more of a No. 5 seed than a No. 6 seed. If they run the table, Arizona will likely become at the very least a No. 4 seed. That means better matchups in the first couple of rounds.
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We got our own Steph Curry! His name is @GabeYork01 💪🏼
— Dušan Ristić (@ristic_dusan) March 4, 2016
proud of Gabe, stayed with it. honored the process, as coach would say..
— Solomon Hill (@solohill) March 4, 2016
— Kevin Parrom (@KevinParrom3) March 4, 2016
THREE-POINT FIELD GOALS CAREER
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THREE-POINT GOALS SEASON
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— Greg Byrne (@Greg_Byrne) March 4, 2016
MOST CAREER VICTORIES IN GAMES PLAYED
Note: Gabe York is at 103 wins.
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— R.HollisJefferson (@RondaeHJ24) March 4, 2016
ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.