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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

‘Cats come full circle in Cal victory

BERKELEY, Calif., — Head men’s basketball coach Sean Miller knew it would take time for the Wildcats to develop.

It was clear that with three freshmen playing major minutes, a 6-foot-7 small forward starting at center and last year’s role players acting as Arizona’s go-to-guys, the Wildcats weren’t in “win now” mode.

Although it took four losses by four or fewer points and a handful of bumps and bruises along the way, the Arizona team that won in Haas Pavilion on Thursday night is the product Miller was looking for.

Sure, it didn’t include Kevin Parrom, and may not feature sophomore Jordin Mayes, who could be out for the year with a broken left foot. But the Wildcats maximized their limited talent and did everything necessary to defeat a tough Cal team in a hostile environment — something that seemed unthinkable after Arizona fell at home to Washington last weekend.

Miller said Thursday’s contest was virtually the same game the Wildcats have played numerous times this season, but this time they simply came up with the plays down the stretch. The reality is that this was a much different Arizona team than the one that’s lost every close game imaginable.

Sure, Arizona missed big free throws down the stretch. Yes, the Wildcats didn’t play a complete 40 minutes and had several mental lapses in crunch time. But this was Arizona’s gutsiest performance of the year.

The Wildcats could have mailed it in. They trailed 22-9 in the early going as Cal dominated the boards and did pretty much whatever it wanted offensively, while the Wildcats couldn’t seem to find any rhythm with their offensive attack.

Instead of fading away into halftime facing a major deficit, Arizona answered with a huge 36-12 run that’s been brewing for a long time. The Wildcats drilled 13-of-14 shots and showed an offensive prowess that was nonexistent against the Huskies last Saturday. Behind the run, Kyle Fogg had a monster half, scoring 13 points.

Fogg played what Miller called “his best game at Arizona” with 23 points, five 3-pointers, four assists, two steals and only one turnover while holding Cal’s Allen Crabbe to 15 points on 4-of-12 shooting.

Fogg also came up with a monster block on a would-be Crabbe 3-pointer with 26 seconds left, quickly turning a wide-open look into a turnover.

Fellow senior Jesse Perry played like the wily veteran Arizona needs him to be, scoring 18 points on 7-of-12 shooting while hauling in four boards and dishing out two assists.

While the seniors did their job to catapult Arizona to victory, it was the freshmen that carried them over the hump.

Angelo Chol gave Arizona the interior presence its been missing all season as he went for eight points, four rebounds and two blocks in 16 minutes.

Nick Johnson finally broke away from his freshman funk to score 11 points and dish out five assists in 30 minutes of action.

Miller said this Arizona team was no different than the one that lost in overtime to Florida, or the squad that fell to Washington on Saturday.

But from press row, behind Cal’s raucous student section, this looked like a team on the verge of turning the corner.

The freshmen are gaining confidence. Fogg wants to be the go-to-guy. Plus the Wildcats snapped Cal’s 17-game home winning streak with its best player — Solomon Hill — scoring only six points and grabbing two boards before fouling out in 30 minutes of play.

It’s been an up and down season for Arizona. One week the Wildcats are barely on the NCAA Tournament bubble, next they’re a few wins away from the conference title.

The March Madness speculation can wait though, as the fact of the matter is Arizona played its best game of the season with the blueprint Miller had to envision when he sat in the Wildcats media room and called Cal the best team in the conference.

Road wins like Thursday’s have a way of turning teams around. And with the Pac-12 still as wide open as any conference in the country, Arizona needed that victory more than ever.

Can they build on it and make an unthinkable run at the Pac-12 title? If they replicate what they did Thursday night minus a few mishaps, anything can happen.

Be sure to check out the photo gallery by clicking here!

— Mike Schmitz is a marketing senior. He can be reached at sports@wildcat.arizona.edu or on Twitter via @WildcatHoops.

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