BERKELEY, Calif. – The Arizona Wildcats aren’t perfect overall. After squeaking by Utah and Stanford in their two previous games, they couldn’t hit a bucket for over eight minutes of the first half Saturday at Cal.
But after drubbing Cal 87-65 on Saturday at Haas Pavilion despite their first-half dry spell, the Wildcats are 13-4 overall and 4-0 in Pac-12 play after recording their first road sweep of the season.
Maybe there’s something to be said for that.
“Most definitely,” said Chase Jeter, who led Arizona with a career-high 23 points and also pulled down nine rebounds. “We’re a resilient team. We’ve got great guys and I’ve got great teammates.
“In order for us to keep that fight, to be able to close out games, especially in the fashion that we did tonight against a good Cal team, that’s big for us.”
But before they host Oregon and Oregon State this week, the Wildcats’ win showed that they have some things to work on.
Even though they ran away with Saturday’s game in part by holding the Bears to just 34.5 percent shooting, UA coach Sean Miller said they still had room to improve defensively.
Ball-handling is another item on the to-do list. The Wildcats turned the ball over seven times during their first-half dry spell, during which they also missed all eight shots they took.
The fact that they returned after halftime and didn’t commit a single turnover for eight minutes, and only four during the entire second half, suggests they can take care of the ball pretty well.
So maybe it’s just a matter of focus. On Saturday night at Haas Pavilion, it was easy for anybody to get distracted and daydream.
The Bears, now 5-11 and 0-4, are the Pac-12’s worst team and the atmosphere inside Haas was quiet, save for the arena’s blaring loudspeakers and the constant “U of A” chants from Wildcat fans that made up roughly a third of the spectators on hand.
Yet Arizona revived its ball-handling after halftime.
“We’ve done that a couple of times where we have a half of high turnovers and we do a better job of taking care of the ball in the second half,” Miller said. “That’s a big deal for our team. We have a chance to be a team that really does a great job of taking care of the ball.”
Justin Coleman led the Wildcats’ improved ball-handling in the second half, finishing with 13 points and five assists to only one turnover.
Leading 40-28 at halftime, the Wildcats hit their first eight shots and didn’t commit a single turnover in the first eight minutes of the second half. They took a 61-42 lead when Brandon Randolph made a driving layup with 14:01 left.
Coleman then hit a 3 in the corner after a turnover by Cal’s Andre Kelly, putting the Wildcats up by 22 and Arizona kept a comfortable lead the rest of the game.
“We just knew what we had to do,” Jeter said. “The biggest thing in the second half was to take care of the ball.”
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Coleman wound up playing 32 minutes after his previously dislocated left shoulder was hit late in the Wildcats’ win at Stanford on Wednesday. Coleman did not practice Thursday for precautionary reasons but returned to practice Friday and played fully on Saturday.
The Bears received leading scorer Paris Austin back after he missed two games with an ankle injury but Austin had only eight points on 2-for-8 shooting. Justice Sueing led the Bears with 27.
At the start of the game, the Wildcats took a 14-10 lead when Brandon Williams hit a driving layup with 14:52 left in the half, and while Jeter and Coleman each hit two free throws to keep UA ahead, the Wildcats didn’t hit another shot from the field until Coleman hit a 3-pointer with 6:33 left.
During that dry spell, the Wildcats missed all six shots they took and turned the ball over seven times. The Wildcats had eight turnovers for the half but Cal also had eight, while Arizona managed to outrebound the Bears 18-14 and held them to 32.1 percent shooting.
While Williams scored 10 points over the first five minutes of the game, Jeter was one of the few things the Wildcats had going consistently throughout the first half. He had 13 points and eight rebounds before halftime to keep the Wildcats alive despite their dry spell.
Yet Jeter wouldn’t take credit for doing so.
“I wouldn’t say it’s anyone’s job to carry us,” he said. “Our team doesn’t really have that personality. I think we have a lot of good individual players who make a good cohesive team. A lot of guys were on top of their stuff tonight and I just happened to be one of them.”