Tucson, AZ (SportsNetwork.com) - The fifth-ranked Arizona Wildcats take aim at their second straight outright Pac-12 championship, as they play host to the California Golden Bears on Thursday evening at the McKale Center.
Sean Miller's Wildcats earned a big road win at nationally-ranked Utah last weekend (63-57) to secure a share of the conference crown and with six straight victories, Arizona now holds a two-game lead in the conference with two to play. UA is a perfect 15-0 at home this season, part of the nation's longest current homecourt winning streak at 36 games.
Cuonzo Martin's Golden Bears are five games over .500 overall at 17-12, but wins haven't been as easy to come by in league play, where the team sports a mere 7-9 ledger. California was able to end a three-game losing streak last weekend, with Sunday's 73-56 victory over Oregon State. The Bears are 5-4 in true road games this year.
Arizona holds a 57-30 advantage in the series with California, including a 31-10 edge in Tucson. The Wildcats are seeking the regular-season sweep after routing Cal in Berkeley on Jan. 24, 73-50.
The Golden Bears exhibited some stingy defensive play against Oregon State, holding the Beavers to just a 35.1-percent shooting effort and earning a 38-25 edge in rebounding. What came as a bit of a surprise, was the team's offensive proficiency, as Cal delivered on 51.1 percent from the floor overall, including a scorching 61.9 percent in the second half. Jordan Mathews led four Bears in double-digit scoring with 17 points. Jabari Bird tacked on 14 points, while David Kravish and Tyrone Wallace checked in with 13 and 12 points, respectively. Kravish completed a double-double with a game-high 13 rebounds.
The ball hasn't fallen through the hoop so easily for Cal on the season. The Golden Bears are averaging a modest 66.6 ppg on .441 shooting. Despite the pedestrian overall numbers, Cal remains a tough opponent thanks to some balanced scoring, as four of the five starters are averaging double figures. Wallace is a tremendous playmaker, ranking fifth in the conference in scoring at 17.0 ppg, while leading the team in assists as well (3.8 apg). Mathews is next in the scoring column at 14.2 ppg, thanks to his long-range acumen (64 3- pointers on .451 shooting). Kravish (11.2 ppg, 6.9 rpg) and Bird (10.5 ppg) give the team a couple more scoring options.
There aren't many flaws for Arizona, which is in its current position thanks to stellar play at both ends of the floor. The Wildcats are averaging a healthy 75.4 ppg on an efficient .486 shooting, while limiting foes to just 58.5 ppg on .393 shooting. The team also boasts of a strong +8.7 rebounding margin and a +2.8 turnover margin. Freshman forward Stanley Johnson is a rising star in the Pac-12 and currently leads UA in both scoring (14.1 ppg) and rebounding (6.8 rpg). Fellow forwards Brandon Ashley (11.2 ppg, 5.2 rpg) and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (11.1 ppg, 6.7 rpg) add valuable frontcourt depth. Backcourt balance comes in the form of guards T.J. McConnell (9.7 ppg, 6.0 apg) and Gabe York (9.1 ppg).
It was center Kaleb Tarczewski that led the Wildcats in scoring against Utah on the road last weekend, as the big man finished the game with 13 points. Johnson once again played a vital role in the victory, as he recorded a double-double with 12 points and 11 rebounds, while York checked in with 12 points of his own, followed by Hollis-Jefferson's 10. Arizona struggled to find an offensive rhythm, shooting just .333 from the floor, but was able to limit the hometown Utes to an even worse.309 effort, while outrebounding Utah, 44-35.