AP – For a second straight season, Arizona cruised to a Pac-12 regular-season title. The Wildcats, however, would like to change their fortunes in tournament play.
No. 5 Arizona looks to carry its dominance into the conference tournament by pushing its win streak to nine Thursday as it faces eighth-seeded California in the quarterfinals.
The Wildcats (28-3, 16-2) has won back-to-back regular-season titles by three games, and they’ve compiled their highest win total in league play since going 17-1 in 2002-03.
Arizona, though, hasn’t won a Pac-12 tournament championship since 2002, and last year’s run ended with a 75-71 loss to second-seeded UCLA in the final.
The Wildcats came into last year’s tournament off a loss, but that won’t be the case in this one. They outscored opponents by an average of 19.0 points in Pac-12 play, and 23.3 while holding opponents to 36.4 percent shooting during an eight-game winning streak.
“This is a good team, as you know, and hopefully this is just the beginning,” coach Sean Miller said.
Arizona’s dominance was on display again Saturday, when it routed Stanford 91-69 while hitting 53.7 percent from the field – 8 of 17 from long range.
“It doesn’t stop here,” said guard T.J. McConnell, who has 18 points and 22 assists over the past two games. “We have to keep playing like that in Vegas.”
That hasn’t been a problem against California (18-14). The Wildcats have won three straight meetings by an average of 30.0 points.
Brandon Ashley matched his career high with 21 points and five other Wildcats hit double figures in a 99-60 win over the Golden Bears last Thursday.
California is trying to reach the semifinals for the first time since 2012. The Golden Bears have that chance after holding ninth-seeded Washington State to 2 of 12 from beyond the arc while coasting to an 84-59 opening-round victory Wednesday.
They had lost five of the previous six, but may have found a winning formula after establishing David Kravish in the paint against the Cougars. The senior forward had a career-high 25 points with eight rebounds and three blocks while sinking 10 of 17 shots after taking 15 and totaling 18 points over the previous two.
Cal finished with a 37-22 advantage on the glass.
“We established David in the post,” coach Cuonzo Martin said. “I thought that set the tone for us offensively; if we’re able to do that, then our perimeter guys could play.”
Jordan Mathews benefited the most Wednesday, scoring 19 points on 6 of 8 from the floor – 3 of 4 from behind the arc. However, the guard managed just three points against Arizona last week, while Kravish had 10 before fouling out after playing just 17 minutes.
Mathews and Kravish combined for 32 points against the Wildcats on Jan. 24, but got in foul trouble and the Golden Bears only had two others score in a 73-50 loss. Arizona has taken 58 free throws to Cal’s 16 in the two meetings.
Martin is looking for an improved effort.
“First thing is compete from start to finish,” he said. “They’re a good team. They played well at home. Compete, battle, play hard. That’s it. Everything else will take care of itself. We’ve got to establish a physical tone without fouling.”
The winner will meet either fourth-seeded UCLA or 12th-seeded Southern California in the semifinals Friday.