Cats beat Bears in Berkeley

BERKELEY, Calif.--Arizona had the goal of coming to the Bay Area and wrapping up the Pac-10 regular season championship. The UA is halfway there after an 88-75 win over Cal.<P> The Wildcats look ahead to Saturday's showdown with Stanford to wrap up the conference crown. If the Cats win they will earn the top seed in the conference tournament and all but lock up a top seed in the Big Dance.

"They're the No. 1 team in the country for a reason," Cal's Brian Wethers said. "We made a run but they answered. You could see the poise in their faces.

The Cats used a hot start to build up a lead and fended off a number of Cal rallies. The Wildcats hit nine of their first 11 shots and never really cooled off. They finished the game shooting an even 52 percent, including 10-for-19 from behind the arc.

The Bears got great play from their "big three," but could not deal with the deeper, more athletic Wildcats. Every time the Bears got close the Wildcats seemed to have an answer. After leading 8-7 in the opening minute, the Bears could never again get ahead. The Wildcats proved to be the superior ball club, dominating the pace and the style.

Cal tried to mix it up, but couldn't find the right pace. When it went up-tempo the scoring was effective, but the UA executed with more efficiency. Attempts to slow the game down got the home team out of its comfort zone while the forced tempo led to bad shots and turnovers.

Arizona on the other hand did what they wanted on the offensive end. Luke Walton put together his second straight great outing. The senior scored 20 points on 7-of-9 shooting, and was 3-for-3 from three-point range.

"He's just really clutch," Arizona Coach Lute Olson said. "When it comes down to it he's going to make the big play."

Salim Stoudamire matched Walton's scoring output and shooting percentage. The sophomore guard scored 20, making 7-of-9 himself, 6-of-8 from beyond the arc.

"I don't remember those two missing any shots," Braun said. "I guess they had to miss one or two."

Jason Gardner spent most of the game shunning the shot and concentrated on running the offense. He waited until late in the game to look for his points and used seven free throws to get to 15 on the night. The steady senior had four assists and a team-high seven rebounds.

Wethers had 18 points to lead Cal. Joe Shipp and Amit Tamir were right there with 17 and 16, respectively. Like the first match in Tucson, the Bears' trio did the bulk of the scoring but had to work very hard for their points and got little help from anyone else. Shipp, particularly, had to work hard. The likely Pac-10 Player of the Year was fighting the effects of a serious cold, cramping and a lack of practice due to the illness.

Richard Midgley was held in check. The normally hot shooting guard made just 1-of-7 three-point attempts and hit just 3-of-13 overall.

Wildcat center Channing Frye cooled off just a bit after putting together back-to-back dominant games. Frye still managed 15 points and five rebounds.

Cal kept coming at the Wildcats, but they could not make the one key stop or hit the one big basket to completely turn the tide. Arizona relied on its experience and veteran leadership to fend off the pesky Bears.

"The leadership of the seniors is so vital, you can't shake them up," Olson said. "When Cal made their runs, they did a great job answering."

In the early going it was Cal's big three versus the three–point shooting of Stoudamire. Shipp, Wethers and Tamir scored all 17 of Cal's early points, while Stoudamire nailed his first four three-point attempts to propel Arizona to the early 23-17 led. Stoudamire hit a three from the corner to open the game and then added another from up top before a second personal foul sent him to the bench.

Shipp scored the Bears' first three buckets and assisted on the next one when he found Wethers cutting for an easy dunk. Wethers added the next score before Tamir tallied seven in a row, including a three-pointer and a long two with his foot on the line.

Even with the hot shooting Stoudamire on the bench with two fouls, the Cats were able to build a double-figure lead. They went on a 13-2 run, thanks in large part to a number of Cal fouls. The Cats hit 5-of-7 free throws while Andre Iguodala added a highlight reel coast-to-coast dunk to grab a 33-19 lead. It didn't take Cal long to answer with an 8-0 run of its own. Shipp sandwiched a long jumper between two thunderous dunks to cut the lead to two.

Unlike most Wildcat opponents, Cal was able to prevent Arizona from going on a run before halftime. The UA scored seven out of nine, including a three-pointer by Walton, but it was Cal that got the strange bucket at the buzzer. It worked the clock down, but good Wildcat defense forced a bad shot as the shot clock expired. Gabriel Hughes was at the right spot at the right time and collected the bad shot, which barely glanced off the side of the rim. Hughes was all alone and his lay-in had Cal down just 11, 46-35, at intermission.

Cal took the momentum to open the second half. It used a pair of threes and the ability of Shipp and Wethers to get in the lane to spark a 12-2 run. Wethers started the run with a three from the corner, then he and Shipp nailed two straight pull-up jumpers. After a Frye dunk, the Bears scored another five in a row to cut it to three, 52-49.

Arizona responded with two straight threes, but Cal countered with six straight points of its own, including back-to-back buckets by Conor Famulener. The UA wouldn't be outdone. With the lead back down to three, Arizona rattled off seven in a row. Stoudamire hadn't scored since early in the first half, but got back into the scorer's column with back-to-back buckets.

Stoudamire sealed the game moments later when he drilled a three-pointer from the corner with Shipp's hand in his face. The bucket made the lead 71-61, a margin that would not drop below single digits again.

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