Ryan Luther head faked a Cal defender, took one dribble then two steps before throwing down a right-handed slam.
“I had made a few 3s, so they were contesting pretty hard,” the Arizona forward said. “The guy just flew by me and I was able to put it on the floor and score it.”
The aerially-challenged Luther caught the Bears, and the UA bench, by surprise with his athletic display.
“My teammates had a few jokes for that,” he said.
So did his coach.
“When he jumps, I never think he’s going to dunk,” Sean Miller said. “I think the ball is going to hit the front of the rim and he’s going to land on his back. But once in a while he surprises you.”
After a month of losing, the Arizona Wildcats were finally about to let out a few laughs Thursday when they routed the California Golden Bears 76-51 to snap a seven-game losing streak, the program’s longest skid since 1982-83.
Luther tied a season high in points (19) and 3-pointers (5), his third straight game making four or more 3s. Devonaire Doutrive sparked a productive Arizona bench by pairing a career-high 11 points with six rebounds, three assists, and two steals.
“Losing seven in a row is tough, but no one in the locker room gave up or were pointing fingers,” Luther said. “We stayed together and we worked hard ... Obviously it wasn’t going well for us, but it can only get better.”
At one point, Luther scored eight straight points to give Arizona a 15-point lead with 17 minutes left in the second half. The Wildcats led by double figures the rest of the way.
“We needed a win, we needed to play well,” Miller said. “It really wasn’t about who we were playing.”
Though it certainly helped that the Bears (5-21, 0-14) shot just 30 percent from the field and 23 percent from 3, looking every bit of a team that has lost 15 in a row.
Arizona (15-12, 6-8) only scored 10 points in the first 10 minutes, but still managed to grab a 10-point lead at the half, cruising to its first victory since Jan. 19.
“What we’ve been really guilty of is we just have bad stretches,” Miller said. “I think the thing tonight is ... each four-minute segment of the game we were in it. There was never a big run Cal put on us.”
This time it was Arizona making the runs. The Wildcats led by as many as 27 points, seemingly unleashing all the pent-up frustration that accumulated during their losing streak.
The Wildcats used a 9-0 run to build a 19-9 lead with seven minutes left in the first half. Cal cut into that lead a bit, before Luther went nuclear to put the game out of reach.
The Pitt transfer buried a corner 3 to put the Wildcats up 24-16 with three minutes left, hit again to make it 30-20 heading into the locker room, then drilled consecutive triples early in the second half, as Arizona went on to outscore Cal 46-31 in the final 20 minutes.
The Wildcats shot 49 percent from the field and 35 percent from 3. Their 113.7 offensive rating was their best mark since the loss to ASU on Jan. 31. Miller was pleased that Arizona had 21 assists to just 11 turnovers, and that its ball movement, which he has praised the last few games, finally led to results.
“We had some really good moments,” Miller said. “Scoring 78 points was a good sign. And I thought we had the opportunity to maybe even score more.
“We’ve just had a hard time playing really good for 40 minutes. Those breakdowns kill you, and we had breakdowns tonight, but Cal wasn’t able to take advantage of some of them.”
But decent teams will.
So while the Wildcats will enjoy Thursday’s win and rib Luther a little more for his second-half dunk, Miller knows they can easily lose their newfound momentum Sunday when they host Stanford, a game that could have a big say in Arizona’s Pac-12 Tournamant seeding.
“It’s no fun to lose seven games in a row, certainly not what we’re trying to do at Arizona. But it happened and I’m glad that we were able to win tonight,” Miller said. “I think the bigger question is can we build off of it and play a really good game on Sunday? In my mind there’s no game that we’ve played this season that’s bigger than the one we play on Sunday.”