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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Column: Tarczewski and Ashley are playing well at the right time

Arizona+forward+Brandon+Ashley+makes+one+of+his+many+baskets+during+the+first+half+of+Arizonas+48-27+lead+against+California+in+McKale+Center+on+Thursday.
Tyler Baker

Arizona forward Brandon Ashley makes one of his many baskets during the first half of Arizona’s 48-27 lead against California in McKale Center on Thursday.

On Thursday night, Arizona men’s basketball won its second championship of the season and with its bigs playing this well, the Wildcats look poised to add more.

The No. 5 Wildcats (27-3, 15-2 Pac-12) destroyed California 99-60 to clinch their second straight Pac-12 championship. Arizona won the Maui Invitational in November.

Bay Area native and Arizona forward Brandon Ashley tied a career-high with 21 points, and hauled in six rebounds. Center Kaleb Tarczewski scored 14 points and grabbed eight rebounds.

“Brandon Ashley and Kaleb Tarczewski physically set the tone for us, running the court, rebounding and I thought both guys were really active, which is great to see,” Arizona men’s basketball coach Sean Miller said.

Ashley was 8-for-12 from the field and 5-for-6 from the free throw line and had two assists.Tarczewski was 5-for-9 from the field.

Arizona’s starting center and power forward played so well they even inspired some bold praise after the game.

“Kaleb and Brandon, I think, are the best four and five in the country and we have both of them on our team,” point guard T.J. McConnell said. “Kaleb’s confidence has just skyrocketed and when his confidence is up, we’re really good.”

While McConnell got the chants of “MVP” and many think he is going to win the Pac-12 player of the year award, as he’s been a constant through the season. Lately Arizona’s front court players have taken off.

With Tarczewski and Ashley playing well, the Wildcats present many problems. Combine those two with their flashy wings, Stanley Johnson and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, and the Wildcats can gobble up rebounds like a white girl chugs Starbucks.

Arizona outscored the Golden Bears in the paint 42-22 and out-rebounded Cal 42-33. Backup center Dusan Ristic scored 11 points and had three rebounds.

The Wildcats also shut down Cal’s best player, forward David Kravish. He had 10 points, but Arizona caused him to foul out with 9:10 left in the game.

Miller said the Wildcats were on a quest to get Kravish in foul trouble.

“He’s a very valuable player to Cal, both on offense and on defense,” Miller said.

Ashley had his best game since scoring 17 points against hapless Washington State five games ago. This season he’s only scored more than 17 twice, the other time was against Mt. St. Mary’s, which isn’t even the real St. Mary’s.

“He can bring energy to a team that already has good energy and he is at his best when he’s very aggressive,” Miller said. “Brandon missed a lot of last season, so some of that development of ‘how does this work for me’ he’s finding it out this year, maybe instead of at the end of last year.”

Tarczewski’s reemergence has been a bit longer, scoring at least 13 points four times since he was held to two points against ASU, after which even Miller, his greatest supporter, criticized him.

“I think after that loss to Arizona State, it kinda really woke us up and we kinda just put it into another gear and we’ve been playing really good basketball right now,” McConnell said.

The Wildcats have won seven straight since the ASU loss and look poised to win more.

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Follow James Kelley on Twitter.

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