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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Cal first up in senior week

Arizona+mens+basketball+guard+T.J.+McConnell+%284%29+drives+to+the+basket++during+Arizonas+57-47+win+over+UCLA+on+Feb.+21+in+McKale+Center.++McConnell+and+the+Wildcats+host+Cal+today.
Kyle Hansen

Arizona men’s basketball guard T.J. McConnell (4) drives to the basket during Arizona’s 57-47 win over UCLA on Feb. 21 in McKale Center. McConnell and the Wildcats host Cal today.

It may be a game against a California team in the midst of an up-and-down season, but the No. 5 Arizona Wildcats have little to no margin of error heading into postseason play. Arizona men’s basketball coach Sean Miller said the Wildcats cannot afford to overlook any of their remaining opponents. They take on the University of California, Berkeley at 7 p.m. today in McKale Center. 

“We’re preparing for Cal on Thursday night,” Miller said. “If we get too far ahead of ourselves beyond Cal, … we’re not going to play well.”

Arizona (26-3, 14-2) has already overlooked two conference foes: Oregon State and ASU. Overlooking another could be the loss to put the Wildcats out of the race for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. 

“Everybody in our conference can beat us,” Miller said. “We’ve, I think, proven that.”

Arizona controlled the game offensively and defensively to overcome early foul trouble en route to a 73-50 Arizona win the last time that these teams met. Stanley Johnson led the Wildcats with 18 points and nine rebounds, while Cal’s David Kravish led the Golden Bears with 16 points and 11 rebounds. 

Matt Korcheck  was the only one of the 10 Wildcats to play and not score, after getting just two minutes of game action. 

All 50 of Cal’s points came from the starters, as Kravish, Tyrone Wallace and Jordan Mathews combined for 45 of those points. 

While the Wildcats got the best of Cal in that matchup, both teams are not the same as they were when they met on Jan. 24. The Wildcats are much, much better now, and Cal has reeled off six wins in nine games. 

This will be the second-to-last chance for Arizona fans to see point guard T.J. McConnell in action in McKale Center. The senior has been the heart and soul of the team all season, something the Wildcats need him to continue to do. 

McConnell said the team has worked on developing better chemistry since the beginning of the season. 

“In the beginning, I thought it was tough chemistry-wise,” McConnell said. “We’ve done a complete 360 and it’s real easy. I’d say our chemistry is just as good, if not better, than last year’s team.” 

McConnell added that chemistry has propelled the Wildcats during their current six-game winning streak since the ASU loss. 

“It’s really good to be playing really good basketball in March, and to get it from five, six, seven guys is pretty good,” McConnell said. “We’re going to need that rolling into these next two games and into the Pac-12 tournament and even NCAA tournament.” 

The emergence of players Kaleb Tarczewski and Gabe York has solidified the Wildcats from a depth standpoint. Miller has at least seven players he can trust at almost any time and another three — Elliott Pitts, Parker Jackson-Cartwright and Dusan Ristic — that can be difference makers if needed. 

From a depth perspective, this year’s Arizona team is certainly farther along than last season’s team. 

If the Wildcats win these last two games, McConnell will end his Arizona career undefeated at home and with back-to-back Pac-12 Conference regular season championships. 

“To never lose a home game, that’s obviously in the back of my mind, and to run through the fans as a Pac-12 champion would be a great thing,” McConnell said. “We have to keep our minds focused on Cal and go from there.”

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Follow Roberto Payne on Twitter.

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