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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Wildcats advance in tourney

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Kyle Hansen

Arizona men’s basketball forward Stanley Johnson (5) smiles during Arizona’s 73-51 win against California during the first round of the Pac-12 tournament at MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas on Thursday. By defeating Cal, Johnson and the Wildcats advanced to the Pac-12 tournament semifinals.

LAS VEGAS — It was a tale of two halves for Arizona men’s basketball as it opened up the Pac-12 Conference tournament with a close game that blew open in the second half.

The No. 5 ranked and top-seeded Wildcats (29-3) beat California 73-51 in the Pac-12 tournament quarterfinals. Arizona led by six at the half before outscoring Cal 40-24 in the final 20 minutes.

“On our end, I thought we were better in the second half than we were in the first half across the board,” Arizona head coach Sean Miller said. “There’s always a feeling-out process in March when you get into these tournaments, because teams are desperate.”

Arizona now plays UCLA in the semifinals Friday night at 6 p.m. on the Pac-12 Networks.

Despite losing 73-50 to Arizona in Berkeley, Calif., and 99-60 in Tucson, the Golden Bears played the Wildcats close early on, as there were six lead changes and two ties.

“No matter which team it is, any team in the Pac-12 tournament seems to raise their level,” point guard T.J. McConnell said. “They played well in the first half, and we were kind of stagnant and we picked it up in the second half.”

Arizona improved to 25-13 in the Pac-12 tournament and 8-5 under Miller. No. 1 seeds are now 29-10 and eight seeds are now 9-17.

Thursday afternoon’s game was Arizona’s first in this year’s tournament, while Cal beat ninth-seeded Washington State 84-59 on Wednesday.

“Competitive game, we battled, they battled,” Cal head coach Cuonzo Martin said. “They played well.”

The Golden Bears’ battle almost turned into a literal fight after Cal forward David Kravish sat on UA forward Brandon Ashley and then pushed him while the game action was on the other side of the floor.

“That’s basketball — you compete, you play hard, you battle,” Martin said. “You don’t play dirty. You don’t do anything malicious. Just battling.”

Both players received technical fouls on the play. However, Ashley had the last laugh, scoring 15 points and grabbing seven rebounds.

“We’re the team that’s [29-3],” Miller said. “We’re going to take some punches. I’ve talked to these guys a lot about that, and when I say punches, I don’t mean a punch. I mean effort. And Cal played us really hard and physical.”

Kravish had a career-high 25 points on Wednesday but Arizona limited him to just six points on 3-for-13 shooting. It was the ninth time this season that Kravish made three or fewer baskets in a game.

“I think you have to give all the credit to defense,” Martin said about Kravish. “When the shots were falling they did the same thing, made shots, made plays to get shots. And you have to give credit to the defense for making it tough on them.”

Arizona freshman forward Stanley Johnson scored 19 points, tying the game-high. With 450 points this year, he passed Salim Stoudamire for 10th most all-time for a freshman.

Johnson also grabbed seven rebounds to tie center Kaleb Tarczewski for fourth most in a rookie season for a Wildcat. This is the 26th time that Johnson has scored in double-figures this season.

“I think it’s always good to have games like this,” Johnson said. “We can always learn from every game we play. I think we played good in spurts and bad in spurts.”

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Follow James Kelley on Twitter.

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