TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) — For a very few minutes, California stayed with No. 5 Arizona.
Then the roof caved in.
The Wildcats broke away from a 12-12 tie with a 29-8 run and never were seriously threatened again in a 99-60 rout of the Bears on Thursday night.
“I thought they did a really good job of rebounding and taking away the passing lanes,” Cal coach Cuonzo Martin said. “We could never get into a real flow and we have to give those guys credit for doing that. You’re talking about the No. 5 team in the country.”
In the next-to-last home game of his college career, Arizona point guard T.J. McConnell showed why he’s considered one of the top candidates for Pac-12 player of the year, matching his career best with 11 assists and he didn’t have a turnover.
Brandon Ashley was on the receiving end of some of McConnell’s passes, matching his career high with 21 points, helping Arizona make certain it would finish alone atop the Pac-12 regular-season standings..
The Wildcats (27-3, 15-2) already had clinched at least a tie for the conference title and the No. 1 seed in next week’s Pac-12 tournament. They are the first Arizona team in 21 years to repeat as conference regular-season champions.
Tyrone Wallace scored 16 points for the Bears (17-13, 7-10).
It was the most one-sided victory for Arizona and most lopsided loss for Cal this season.
Kaleb Tarczewski added 14 points and Stanley Johnson had 12 for the Wildcats, who had six players in double figures in their seventh straight win since an upset loss to Arizona State.
“After that loss to Arizona State it kind of really woke us up,” McConnell said. “We kind of just put it into another gear.”
In a sport of one-and-done freshman phenoms, McConnell is a throwback, a four-year player — two at Duquesne and two at Arizona.
Arizona coach Sean Miller, himself a standout point guard in college, said there are other top candidates for Pac-12 player of the year, but “T.J., what he has going for him, is he led us to the championship, an outright championship.”
“And in the biggest moments of our season, he’s been at his best,” Miller said. “And every coach in our conference knows this. He does it on defense just as much as he does it on offense.”
The Wildcats won their 37th straight at home, the longest active streak in NCAA Division I.
Arizona finished the half in spectacular fashion. With 4.9 seconds left, McConnell drove the length of the court and passed to Tarczewski for a dunk at the buzzer and a 48-27 lead.
Ashley matched his career best of 21 points with an inside basket that doubled the score at 58-29. The Bears trailed by as many as 38 points in the second half.
“I think I’m a pretty good player,” Ashley said, “but like T.J. said, he was finding me in great positions. He was just putting me in great position to be able to make shots and be aggressive.”
The Wildcats didn’t cut down the nets to celebrate the conference title. Miller said the team would wait to do that until after Saturday’s home finale against Stanford.
Cal’s David Kravish got in early foul trouble and fouled out with 9:10 to play.
“I think when you lose a post presence against a team that defends as well as they do, things can get tough,” Martin said, “because they can extend on the perimeter. I thought it changed the game.”
California: Bears have lost four of five after a five-game winning streak that followed their home loss to Arizona. … The Bears’ previous most one-sided loss of the season was 79-44 at home to Arizona State.
Arizona: Ashley scored half of Arizona’s first 30 points. … Ashley set his career high against Mount St. Mary’s in the season opener. … Five of the Wildcats’ wins in their seven-game streak were by at least 24 points. … Elliott Pitts went to the locker room in the second half after feeling ill.
California: is at Arizona State on Saturday.
Arizona: Home against Stanford on Saturday.
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