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February 1, 2014

No. 1 Arizona to visit struggling Cal



There was a time both California and top-ranked Arizona were tied atop the Pac-12 Conference at 5-0.

Exactly two weeks later, what was once a possible showdown for greater stakes is now like the rest of the Wildcats' previous challenges lately. The Bears (14-7, 5-3 Pac-12), currently on a three-game losing streak, will look to end their slide Saturday and deliver the first blemish to the perfect Wildcats (21-0, 8-0 Pac-12).

Tipoff is scheduled for 7:36 p.m. PT at Haas Pavilion in Berkeley, Calif.

"We know by now that we're going to get everybody's best shot, and that's what happened," UA guard Nick Johnson said after Wednesday's 60-57 win at Stanford. "Packed crowd, a hyped crowd tonight - it was a tough game."

Johnson's game-high 16-point performance also continued to go against the narrative of the college basketball season. The headlines early were about freshman Aaron Gordon, who is one of a handful of elite first-year talents in the country - and many still are.

The forward, a Bay Area native playing close to home for the first time in his collegiate career this week, has been productive as UA's third-leading scorer (12 points per game) and top rebounder (7.9 boards). But Gordon was just 2 of 10 from the field and 1 of 3 at the free-throw line against the Cardinal.

Johnson, meanwhile, added to his steadily growing national player of the year candidacy. The junior scored the Wildcats' final seven points - including the go-ahead 3-pointer with 51 seconds to play - to pull out a win despite the team's season-low 36 percent shooting and 11 missed free throws.

Equally as important, Arizona's defense kept a seven-point second-half deficit manageable by collecting stops on 16 of Stanford's final 19 possessions. The effort also erased the Wildcats' first lost rebounding battle of the season.

"No question we have to execute better on offense and we have to be more confident at the line," UA head coach Sean Miller said. "We'll work toward that as we approach Saturday."

Later that night in Northern California, Cal dropped a heartbreaking, 89-78 overtime decision to Arizona State. After erasing a 12-point halftime deficit and taking the lead in the final minute, ASU's Jermaine Marshall tied the game at 72 on a 3-pointer with 19 seconds remaining in regulation.

The Bears were then outscored 17-6 in the extra session.

After losing its first home game of the season, Cal leading scorer Justin Cobbs said the contest against red-hot Arizona is a must-win.

"We have to win," Cobbs said. "We can't keep losing games at home. We've dropped three straight so we have to perform, we have to win."

For starters, Bears head coach Mike Montgomery said a change has to come from the 3-point line. Cal is shooting just 25.5 percent during the slide, including a 4-of-13 display against the Sun Devils.

"They were packing the paint and daring us to shoot the 3," Montgomery said. "One of the things we're struggling with right now is we're not shooting the ball very well. We've just got to keep working."

Arizona opponents are shooting just 29.3 percent from beyond the arc - the second-best mark in the league and 22nd-best in the country.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Tracy McDannaldTracy McDannald
GOAZCATS.com Senior Editor

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