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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Hoops: Top of the Pac

Alan Walsh / Arizona Daily Wildcat
Alan Walsh
Alan Walsh / Arizona Daily Wildcat

For the Arizona men’s basketball program, the thought of battling for the league lead halfway through the Pacific 10 Conference schedule was unfathomable just two weeks ago. In fact, visions of a conference title haven’t been swirling in Tucson for the past few years.

Now, it’s a reality.

The young Wildcats tied for first place in the Pac-10 by outlasting California to win 76-72 Sunday afternoon, extending their win streak to a season-high four games.

“”It was the type of game everyone dreams of,”” said freshman guard Momo Jones. “”First place was on the line, a packed house with not an empty seat, everyone is there to watch you.

“”Just knowing all the people that have our backs,”” he added, “”it feels great.””

Point guard Nic Wise, who closed out the game by scoring seven points in the final minutes, led Arizona (12-9, 6-3 Pac-10) on the court, matching his career high with 30 points in the game.

Wise won the battle of the Pac-10 point guards, holding senior floor general Jerome Randle to 15 points on 5-for-14 shooting, including 1-for-8 from beyond the arc.

Driving into the body of Randle, Wise converted a lay-up and drew the foul to give Arizona a 74-72 lead, just about sealing the game with 26 seconds remaining.

“”We do this situation everyday in practice,”” Wise said. “”My teammates look to me to take that shot, so I wouldn’t want to put that burden on somebody else when they’re looking for me to do it.””

Wise redeemed himself with that play after fouling Randle on a 3-point attempt, giving the guard three free throws, which put the Wildcats down 72-71.

Arizona trailed at halftime 34-32, but started the second half on a 7-0 run, giving the Wildcats their largest lead of the game (39-34) with 8:08 remaining in the second half.

The Golden Bears (14-7, 6-3) came roaring back, led by Theo Robertson, who scored 27 points and shot 3-for-5 from beyond the arc. Although the senior forward had a big night offensively, Wise and the Wildcats wouldn’t concede defeat.

Sunday’s win was Arizona’s most momentous of the season, and for some of the freshman, the biggest that they’ve ever been a part of in their young college careers.

“”It felt great,”” said Jones, who scored 10 points in 17 minutes. “”That’s the only word I can use to describe it.””

Fellow freshman Derrick Williams added 15 points, joining Wise and Jones as the only Wildcats in double figures.

Forward Jamelle Horne came up huge in the second half despite struggling in the first. Horne only scored five points, but his most crucial play came in the final seconds on the defensive end of the floor.

With 11 seconds remaining in the game and Arizona up 74-72, Horne forced Robertson to dribble the ball off his foot and out of bounds, a key defensive play that allowed Wise to hit two free throws to give Arizona a two-possession lead.

Four weeks removed from a 30-point drubbing to BYU, the Wildcats showed that despite their youth, they’re improving dramatically in a short period of time.

“”It’s very gratifying to see us improve and watch the effort we played with today,”” said Arizona head coach Sean Miller. “”We still have a lot of upside considering where we came from in the beginning of the year.””

Though the Wildcats sit atop of the Pac-10, Wise pointed out that a long road lies ahead.

“”This season is not done,”” the senior said. “”We still have the second half of the Pac-10 coming up and anything can happen. We’re going to stay focused and we’re going to come back tomorrow ready to work.””

Fifteen of Arizona’s 20 games have come down to two possessions or less, showing the number of close games the Wildcats have played in this season. The team will now prepare to play two tough road games against the Washington schools.

“”Staying even keel will make us the best team moving forward,”” Miller said. “”We’re going to be going to one of the most hostile environments in Washington. We know this will be a tough trip.””

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