TUCSON — Four weeks after absorbing the worst loss in McKale Center history, Arizona is tied for the Pac-10 lead. Nic Wise matched a career high with 30 points, and Arizona defeated California 76-72 on Sunday to grab a share of first place at the midway point.
TUCSON — Four weeks after absorbing the worst loss in McKale Center history, Arizona is tied for the Pac-10 lead.
Nic Wise matched a career high with 30 points, and Arizona defeated California 76-72 on Sunday to grab a share of first place at the midway point.
"This is, to me, the best win of our season because of who we played," Arizona coach Sean Miller said. "Cal is a terrific team, and the stakes were high. It's always interesting to see how your team plays in big moments, and we really answered the bell."
These aren't the same Wildcats who appeared helpless in a 99-69 loss to Brigham Young on Dec. 28. Halfway through the Pac-10 season, Arizona (12-9, 6-3) has won four straight to pull into a first-place tie with the Golden Bears (14-7, 6-3).
The Wildcats have 11 regular-season titles in 31 seasons, but none since 2005, their longest drought in a quarter century. California hasn't won the conference since 1959-60, when it had five teams.
"We don't want to dwell on the fact that we're in first place," Arizona guard Lamont Jones said. "Like Nic said in the locker room, we don't want to be tied for first."
There's a long way to go in the regular season. But both teams looked title-worthy in a riveting game that had nine ties and 11 lead changes.
Theo Robertson scored a career-high 27 points for the Golden Bears, who had their three-game winning streak snapped. Robertson's outburst came three days after he played 37 scoreless minutes in a victory at Arizona State.
The win in Tempe gave the Bears a shot at their first road sweep of the Arizona schools, which joined the league in 1978-79. But Cal's chance for a victory over Arizona slipped away down the stretch, with the Golden Bears scoring only one bucket in the final 5:23.
"The thing that is disappointing is you have a chance to win with two minutes left," Cal coach Mike Montgomery said. "All you have to do is get a stop and make a play."
Cal couldn't stop Wise, a senior from Houston who seemed to make all the plays when it mattered.
"He's just really good," Montgomery said. "He's the best guy we've played so far."
With Arizona down 34-32 at halftime, Wise opened the second half with a 3-pointer that sent a jolt through McKale Center.
Then Derrick Williams hit a pair of free throws and a layup to give the Wildcats a 39-34 lead, and sold-out McKale Center was rocking. Williams had 15 points and 11 rebounds.
The red-clad crowd of 14,629 was on its feet the rest of the way.
"People talk to me about McKale — I guess I really saw it here today," Miller said. "The atmosphere today was as electric as there can be in any building in college basketball. Who benefited from that? Our team."
The crowd had plenty to scream about in the chaotic final minutes.
Cal's Omondi Amoke scored to give the Bears a 67-65 lead with 4:13 to play, and neither team scored a bucket until Williams dunked on a feed from Jamelle Horne to tie it at 69-69 with 1:15 to play.
Then Wise took over, personally outscoring Cal 7-3 in the final 52 seconds. And he did it by slithering through traps and double teams.
First, Wise sliced down the left side of the lane and hit a running bank shot to give the Wildcats a 71-69 lead.
With 40 seconds left, Wise fouled Jerome Randle beyond the arc. Randle, a 93-percent shooter from the line, hit all three shots to put the Bears up by a point.
Wise responded by driving on Randle, scoring and drawing a foul. Wise, an 89-percent free-throw shooter, hit the foul shot to put Arizona up 74-72 with 26 seconds left.
"It was just taking what they gave me," Wise said.
Robertson dribbled the ball out of bounds on the next possession, and the Bears were forced to foul Wise, who knocked down two shots to ice the game.
The teams meet again on Feb. 25 in Berkeley.
"We look forward to playing these guys again," Cal's Patrick Christopher said.