The Arizona Wildcats were in desperate need of a building block for a NCAA tournament resume lacking of anything substantial. They'd lost to ever-growing rival Washington last weekend and had yet to beat any team in the Top 50 of college basketball's RPI rankings.
With a 78-74 victory on the road against the California Golden Bears, the Wildcats finally got the monkey off their backs. The win put the Huskies in sole possession of the Pac-12 at 8-2, brought the (15-8, 6-4) Wildcats one game back of the Golden Bears, Oregon and Colorado, and also gave UA its first victory against a decently-rated team.
Cal's RPI stands at No. 42 in the nation as of Friday morning, and with the only Pac-12 team ahead of the Wildcats left on the schedule being the Buffaloes, the win keeps Arizona relevant in postseason discussion. For sure, it'll be a tall hill to climb, but from what we've seen the past two games, Sean Miller's crew still has a chance to make a late-season run.
If anything, we know they can take a punch.Arizona found itself down by 13 points just 10 minutes into the game, but came back behind hot shooting from Kyle Fogg. The senior scored 23 points, none bigger than his clutch three-pointer with just over a minute to play that gave UA the lead for good.
Plus, the Wildcats did it with foul trouble across the board. Fogg played through three personals for much of the game, while Josiah Turner and Solomon Hill each dealt with four. Hill, who scored just six points and grabbed two boards in 30 minutes, eventually fouled out. Turner played well when he could, but the storyline here goes to the help the team got from its less-heralded players.
Jesse Perry scored 18 and Nick Johnson perhaps broke himself out of a slump by scoring 11 points and dishing out five assists. The freshman guard even saw point guard duties thanks to Turner's foul trouble.
Backup Jordin Mayes had six points but only played 13 minutes after a foot injury that acts as another blow to Arizona. It was just last game the Wildcats lost Kevin Parrom to a break in his foot, and considering Mayes lost most of the summer with his own foot injury, Miller told Bruce Pascoe that it's possible Mayes is done for the year as well.
The adversity just might be overcome.
After all, the Wildcats fought back from a double-digit deficit against Washington a game prior, then won against the Golden Bears without Parrom, with Hill having an off-night, through foul trouble, without a backup point guard -- all on the road.
Character-building could lead to future success. As I wrote a few weeks ago, building upon this season -- NCAA tournament or not -- could catapult the Wildcats into next year. Now, we're seeing development occur as we reach the final third of the season.
Turner has matured (if he can stay on the floor, we'll truly see his talent), Fogg is a role-model for how the youngsters will have to take over games next season, and there finally seems to be a cohesiveness about it all.
Angelo Chol's play last night is a perfect example of that. The freshman, though still raw, scored eight points, swatted two shots and grabbed four rebounds in only 16 minutes of play. And because the team's troubles, at their core, have been the lack of an inside presence -- Kyryl Natyazhko surely isn't coming to the rescue -- an increased role given to Chol could maybe make Arizona a whole new team.
I know, it's hard not to get overly optimistic about a team after a solid win against a conference leader. But there's life in Arizona.