Is this the best regular season in Arizona history? If not, it’s right up there.
The Wildcats (28-3, 18-2) crushed Cal 89-61 on Saturday afternoon at McKale Center in the regular-season finale, setting a record for most conference wins in Pac-10/12 history and tying the school mark for regular-season victories with the 2014-15, 2013-14 and 1987-88 squads.
Senior Day saw 6th-year guard Justin Kier get the start over Kerr Kriisa, with Kier going for 13 points, five rebounds and three assists in 25 minutes. He got a standing ovation before the game as he jogged down the steps through the Zona Zoo and again when he exited with 1:59 remaining in the second half. He and the rest of the Wildcats ran up those same steps after the game, then around the McKale concourse, to celebrate with the fans before coming back to the floor to cut down the net.
“How ‘bout these misfits?,” coach Tommy Lloyd said to the McKale crowd, ending his speech with “B-T-F-D!”
Lloyd subbed early and often, playing no starter more than 27 minutes and getting freshman Adama Bal into the game shortly after the first media timeout. Bal finished with a career-high 7 points with two rebounds and three assists in 17 minutes.
Arizona’s bench outscored the starters 46-43, with Oumar Ballo going for 16 points on 7-of-7 shooting. Benendict Mathurin and Pelle Larsson added 13 apiece as the Wildcats shot a season-high 62.5 percent.
The UA led 40-31 at the half (after being up 19 with 4-plus minutes left) but had the lead back up to 15 before the first media timeout of the second half on back-to-back Mathurin 3s. The Golden Bears never got closer than 57-43 with 11:49 left.
Arizona only took three shots in the first 5-plus minutes, during which it missed four of six free throws, then it rattled off five in a row and 10 of 13 with five of those baskets by Ballo. He was personally outscoring Cal 11-9 midway through the first half before picking up his second foul.
A 19-3 run put the UA up 26-9 with 9:42 remaining, with its bench providing 20 of those points. The Wildcats got sloppy during the latter half of the opening frame, getting outscored 19-2 over the final 7:58 and not making a shot the final 3:51.
The Wildcats, as the No. 1 seed in the Pac-12 Tournament, will play Thursday in Las Vegas against the winner of Wednesday’s first-round game between No. 8 ASU and No. 9 Stanford. The UA is 4-0 against those teams this season, winning by an average of 15.8 points.