BERKELEY, Calif. – Arizona point guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright returned from an ankle sprain to help the Wildcats beat California 67-62 to open their Pac-12 season and give Sean Miller his 200th win as UA’s head coach.
While Jackson-Cartwright chipped in four assists and no turnovers while playing 20 minutes in his first game since Nov. 30, helping UA out of an early first-half rut, Dusan Ristic led the Wildcats in scoring with 16 points. Kobi Simmons added 14 and Lauri Markkanen had 13.
Arizona shot just 36.4 percent in the first half but shot 53.3 from the field in the second to finish at 44.4 percent against a team that entered the game allowing only 36.6 percent shooting.
The win moved the Wildcats to 12-2 overall and 1-0 in the Pac-12 entering a New Year’s Day game against Stanford on Sunday at Maples Pavilion. Cal dropped to 9-4 and 0-1.
The Wildcats entered the final four minutes leading 59-52 while both Markkanen and Ivan Rabb of Cal had four fouls. Cal made a late run, getting a three-pointer from Jabari Bird to pull within 66-62 with 17 seconds left but Rawle Alkins hit 1 of 2 free throws while UA hung on.
Trailing by six at halftime, the Wildcats tied the game at 38 and went ahead 40-38 when Simmons made three layups within 90 seconds early in the second half. Arizona led by as many as five points, 41-36, when Markkanen hit 1 of 2 free throws with 14:03 left.
Ristic later helped keep the Wildcats ahead by turning the tables on Jackson-Cartwright, dishing to the UA point guard under the basket for a layup, and then Ristic scored on UA’s next possession to make it 52-48.
By then, Cal was without Rabb on the floor after Rabb picked up his fourth foul while guarding UA’s Chance Comanche near the basket with 10:33 left.
The Wildcats fell behind 32-26 at halftime while shooting just 36.4 percent from the field, missing all but one of the seven 3-pointers they took.
Cal shot 40 percent from the field but was even worse from 3-point territory, making just 1 of 10 long range shots.
The game nearly spun out of control early for Arizona, when the Bears’ defense propelled Cal to a 15-0 run. On one memorable sequence, Cal center Kingsley Okoroh blocked a driving Simmons and the Bears took the ball and set up an easy dunk by Jabari Bird.
That made it 16-9 and Okoroh later broke free in the middle of the UA defense for an uncontested dunk to put the Bears ahead 19-6.
But Jackson-Cartwright was out during that Bears' run and when he came back in the game, the Wildcats pulled off a 9-0 run of their own to cut it to 19-15 by the time Ristic scored twice inside.
Jackson-Cartwright returned for the first time since suffering a high ankle sprain on Nov. 30 against Texas Southern. He returned to practice in limited form before the Wildcats took a pre-Christmas break and continued progressing this week.
UA trainer Justin Kokoskie said before the game that Jackson-Cartwright did not have a set goal for minutes but instead would see how he feels and how well he can defend.
“It’s been a slow progression but we’re making sure we’re extremely safe,” Kokoskie said. “We asked him to communicate with us. You’re always a step slow when you first come back from treatment and rehabilitation.”
Still, Jackson-Cartwright wound up returning at the earliest possible date that Kokoskie and Miller expected after he was injured on Nov. 30 against Texas Southern.
He was estimated to miss 4-8 weeks and Friday's game was just two days after the four week mark.