Arizona (12-2, 1-0, Pac-12) started off slow, trailing Cal 19-6 midway through the first half, but got things together and shot 53 percent in the second half to escape Haas Pavilion with a win.
The Wildcats missed 15 of their first 18 shots — several of which were at the rim — but used a 9-0 run to trim Cal’s lead to 19-15 with 7:21 left in the first half.
Parker Jackson-Cartwright, returning from a high ankle sprain after a six-game absence, made his impact felt, dishing out two assists during the run, including this one to Lauri Markkanen on a pick-and-roll.
Welcome back, Parker Jackson-Cartwright. PJC finds Lauri Markkanen on a screen-and-roll for a bucket. pic.twitter.com/1gZRQdWH3g— Ryan Kelapire (@RKelapire) December 31, 2016
Jabari Bird and Ivan Rabb, each finishing the game with 16 points, helped Cal extend its led to 30-20 later in the half, but the Wildcats ended it well, cutting the Bears’ lead to 32-26 at the break.
Ristic led Arizona with ten first half points, shooting 5-6 from the field. The rest of the Wildcats were 7-27 from the field, though. The two teams were a combined 2-17 from behind the arc in the first 20 minutes, despite the Golden Bears having several open looks.
The Wildcats came out of the gate strong in the second half, thanks in part to Simmons who scored eight quick points, and took a 40-36 lead (it certainly didn’t hurt that Rabb picked up his third foul) with 15 minutes to play.
Simmons attacked the rim at will and the results followed.
Rabb returned to the game, though, and helped Cal re-take a 43-42 lead with roughly 11 minutes left in regulation.
Rabb’s stay on the court was brief — and so was Cal’s lead — as Chance Comanche used a drop-step to score on Rabb to give Arizona a 46-43 lead with ten minutes left and hand Rabb his fourth foul.
Rabb came back in with Arizona leading 56-50 with six minutes to go, but it was too late for Cal. Behind a 3 from Markkanen and a nice play between Simmons and Rawle Alkins, Arizona took a 62-55 lead with two minutes left.
Markkanen finished with 13 points on 5-12 shooting, while Alkins had 10 points on 4-12 shooting.
Ristic then iced the game with a mid-range dagger at the elbow to put Arizona up 64-56 with less than a minute left.
Arizona held Cal to 33 percent shooting in the second half, outscoring the Golden Bears 41-30 over the final 20 minutes.
Neither team shot well from 3 as Arizona was 2-11 and Cal was 3-15 from that range.
The junior played for the first time since Nov. 30 when he suffered a high ankle sprain, and he looked as good as one could realistically expect. Sean Miller was mostly concerned about Jackson-Cartwright’s mobility, but he wasn’t noticeably slower than usual.
His chemistry on the pick-and-roll with Markkanen and Ristic looked like it hadn’t missed a beat, either.
Parker Jackson-Cartwright works the pick-and-pop with Lauri Markkanen for a huge 3. pic.twitter.com/jY1snVkgqP— Ryan Kelapire (@RKelapire) December 31, 2016
In total, Jackson-Cartwright finished with four assists and zero turnovers in 20 minutes. He provided more than just depth. Jackson-Cartwright now has 41 assists to 11 turnovers for the season. That’s....pretty good.
Relatedly, Arizona only had eight turnovers against the Golden Bears. Having their best distributor back certainly helped the Wildcats.
Ristic has quietly put together a dominant stretch in the last month or so.
He had ten first half points against the Golden Bears and finished with 16 points for the game on an efficient 8-10 shooting. He hit a couple mid-range jumpers and scored several times in the low post, looking as comfortable as he has all season.
The 7-footer has now scored in double figures in seven of Arizona’s last eight games.
Comanche has rough game, but makes a key play
Comanche had his best game of his career when Arizona wrapped on non-conference play ten days ago, but he couldn’t follow it up with another solid performance against Cal.
In fact, it was quite the opposite. He fouled a 3-point shooter, picked up a turnover on a travel, missed a dunk, and didn’t have much of an impact on defense or the glass.
But he did make a key play.
With the game tied at 43-43, Comanche used a quick drop-step to get a bucket — and the foul — against Rabb. Not only did it give Arizona a three-point lead with 10:33 left in regulation, but it tacked on Rabb’s fourth foul. Rabb would have to sit for the next four minutes or so, and that’s when Arizona started to take control of the game.
Comanche finished with three points, two rebounds, two blocks, and two turnovers.
Arizona returns to action Sunday when it travels to Palo Alto to face the Stanford Cardinal. That game is set for 6 p.m. MST and it will be televised on the Pac-12 Network.
Stanford dropped its Pac-12 opener to ASU on Friday.
You can follow this author on Twitter at @RKelapire