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February 26, 2014
No. 3 Arizona dunks Cal, 87-59
The third-ranked Wildcats raced out to a 15-point halftime lead and Nick Johnson scored a game-high 22 points in an 87-59 win over the Bears at McKale Center.
The victory avenged a Feb. 1 loss that ended the team's 21-0 start to the season, but the junior guard said the focus is on the bigger picture.
The Wildcats (26-2, 13-2 Pac-12 Conference), who now own a 2 1/2-game lead over second-place UCLA, can wrap up at least a share of the league title with a Bruins loss to Oregon on Thursday or a win over Stanford on Sunday.
"We're trying to do one thing: win the league championship," said Johnson, who made 7 of 14 shots, collected seven rebounds and handed out five assists.
It was Johnson's second consecutive game with at least 20 points, and ninth of the season.
UA did not cool off immediately after halftime. Johnson extended the advantage to 51-31 with 16:37 to play.
The Bears (18-10, 9-6 Pac-12) pulled within single digits after storming back with 11 consecutive points, and Tyrone Wallace trimmed the deficit to 8 on a 3-pointer. But Kaleb Tarczewski, who finished with 16 points, scored back-to-back baskets to get UA back on track.
The 7-foot center shot 7 of 9 from the floor for the Wildcats, who shot 50.8 percent and put five players in double figures. It was UA's third consecutive half above 50 percent shooting.
"I think we're definitely starting to get back in a groove," Tarczewski said.
Cal, which was outrebounded by 17, never threatened again and trailed by as many as 29 in the final minute.
"He's a smarter player, No. 1, and he's more sure of himself in the post," UA head coach Sean Miller said of Tarczewski. "He got the job done."
Johnson and Tarczewski both finished two points shy of their respective career highs. McConnell chipped in 13 points on 6-of-10 shooting to go with six assists and three steals.
Justin Cobbs finished as Cal's lone double-figure scorer. But the junior guard needed 12 shots - he made just five - to net his 12 points.
"We just weren't in-tune tonight," Cobbs said. "We called plays and guys forgot."
After making 22 of 26 shots in the second half of last week's win at Colorado, the Wildcats started the game cold and trailed 8-2. But that turned out to just be a momentary lapse.
After missing two of its first eight shots, UA made 10 of its next 14 and the teams exchanged the lead on five consecutive baskets.
"We're shooting the ball really well right now," said McConnell, who has 22 assists and just one turnover over the last three games "If we keep doing that, we're pretty tough to stop."
The Wildcats separated themselves with a 9-0 run highlighted by three dunks to go up 22-14 with 10:34 left in the half. The first-half aerial display did not stop there, as Cal committed nine turnovers to put the 'Cats on the run.
Johnson put UA ahead by double digits less than five minutes later, and his block led to Rondae Hollis-Jefferson's third dunk of the half to run the score to 37-23.
"Jefferson got free a lot coming down the middle," Cal head coach Mike Montgomery said.
"Our objective was to keep them out of transition but obviously we didn't do that."
Hollis-Jefferson collected a double-double with 12 points and 10 boards off the bench.
The Wildcats, who led by as many as 17 in the half, shot 50 percent and took a 44-29 lead into the locker room.
"We can't afford a 15-point deficit against a team like Arizona," Cobbs said.