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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Wildcats trump Cal behind T.J. McConnell

Alex McIntyre
Alex McIntyre / The Daily Wildcat Brianda Vila displays a sign protesting budget cuts to education proposed by Gov. Doug Ducey in downtown Tucson, Ariz. on Thursday, March 5, 2015. Vila, though not a parent, student or educator, said “Our kids deserve better. Our families deserve better.”

As chants of “MVP” rung through McKale Center, T.J. McConnell walked off the court for the final time during No. 5 Arizona’s 99-60 win over California on Thursday night. In his second-to-last home game in McKale Center, the fifth-year senior paced the Wildcats both offensively and defensively as Arizona (27-3, 15-2 Pac-12 Conference) clinched the outright Pac-12 championship for the second consecutive year.

“To be honest, I got the chills when I heard it,” McConnell said about the “MVP” chants. “It kind of just fired me up to show the support of the fans like that. I’ll say it a million times until I’m blue in the face: We have the absolute best fans in America, and that’ll never change. And they proved why since I’ve been here.”

By clinching the Pac-12 outright for the second straight season, these Wildcats became the first UA team in over 20 years to win back-to-back conference championships, a feat Arizona forward Brandon Ashley struggled to express after the game.

“I don’t even know what to say. … It’s just like, with the University of Arizona, there’s been a ton of great players and great teams and everything,” Ashley said. “To be one of the first teams to go back-to-back in quite some time, that’s big for us.”

McConnell ended the game by tying his career-high with 11 assists to go along with eight points and four rebounds in 25 minutes of action. Joining McConnell with big nights were Ashley and center Kaleb Tarczewski.

Ashley tied his career-high with 21 points and added six rebounds and two assists. Tarczewski put up 14 points and eight rebounds, continuing his recent hot streak over the past month or so.

After a back-and-forth start that saw the Wildcats and Golden Bears tied at 12-12 with 15:08 to go in the first half, Arizona went on a dominant 36-15 run to end the half and put the game away before halftime.

When asked after the game why the starters played deep in the second half with a margin that nearly reached 40 points, Arizona men’s basketball coach Sean Miller joked on not being able to take his starters out earlier.

“Who do you want me to put in?” Miller asked. “I thought I got them out pretty early. I can’t take them out with 20 minutes left.”

From Cal’s perspective, the Golden Bears struggled to string together multiple buckets throughout the action. The Cal big men got into early foul trouble and struggled to defend Ashley and Tarczewski early and often.

Cal guard Tyrone Wallace led the Golden Bears with 16 points and contributed five rebounds, while forward David Kravish scored 10 points before fouling out with 9:10 left in the game.

The Wildcats dominated the stat sheet, out-rebounding Cal 42-33 and winning the points in the paint battle by a wide 42-22 margin. Six Wildcats scored in double-figures, while 11 of the 12 Wildcats who played scored at least two points.

Going into Saturday’s matchup mid-day with Stanford, this was exactly the type of performance Arizona needed to keep the nation’s longest home winning streak alive and well.

“This weekend is a statement weekend,” Miller said. “It’s our final home weekend of the season. Everyone has their final game of the season, and you want to finish off what you started in a good way. By a win, by a great performance, you want your players that are leaving to leave with that final great game — that moment. That’s what we’re after.”

Saturday’s game is slated for 2 p.m. and can be seen on CBS.


Follow Roberto Payne on Twitter.

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