Tucson CitizenTucson Citizen

Out of reach?

Citizen Staff Writer
UP NEXT: STANFORD (17-11, 6-11) at ARIZONA (18-12, 8-9), 5:30 P.M., SATURDAY. TV: FSNA



Call it bubble trouble.

Arizona’s 83-77 loss to California on Thursday may be that big.

Chase Budinger didn’t want to even think about UA not making the NCAA Tournament, choosing instead to look at the Wildcats’ regular-season finale against Stanford.

The Wildcats need to win Saturday at McKale Center – and fare well in the Pac-10 Tournament – to keep alive their 25th straight NCAA Tournament hopes. Not since Lute Olson’s first year (1983-84) has UA missed the Big Dance.

“They can be disappointed about tonight, and I hope that fuels them and gives them motivation,” UA interim coach Russ Pennell said. “But to sit around – and ‘woe is me’ – is not going to help anybody. I still think there is enough opportunities to accomplish our goals. Is the margin of error thin? Yes it is. But I still think it’s there.

“There is still hope.”

Jerome Randle took away some of that hope by pumping in a career-high 31 points, including his eighth 3-pointer with 1:55 left to give Cal a late cushion.

UA couldn’t get the win on Thursday against the seemingly always-beatable Golden Bears in Tucson. The Cats hadn’t lost to Cal in McKale Center since Feb. 12, 1995, although that game was later forfeited by Cal.

“To say I’m disappointed would be an understatement,” Pennell said. “I felt like we played hard, but I didn’t think we played smart at times. I thought our effort was good (and) I thought that was a good basketball team that beat us, too. That’s an NCAA Tournament team. They’ve been doing that all year.”

Cal led 76-71 with 38 seconds left, before Arizona rallied for the last time in its futile attempt to get the victory. Cal hit 7 of 9 free throws in the final minute.

“Any loss is upsetting, especially at home,” Budinger said. “I felt we are a much better team than we showed tonight.”

Arizona (18-12, 8-9 Pac-10) led Cal 38-34 at halftime on a night reserved for Olson, a Hall of Fame coach. But the Bears (22-8, 11-6) hit 9 of 16 3-pointers in the second half to get the win.

UA couldn’t muster a win in front of Olson, who was honored at halftime for his 24 years at Arizona. UA’s largest crowd in 25 seasons – 14,729 – showed up to see the ceremony, which included former UA players Steve Kerr and Jud Buechler.

Olson guided UA to the 1997 NCAA title and 23 consecutive NCAA appearances.

“We wanted to win it for him and ourselves,” UA’s Nic Wise said. “We always loved seeing him. He is one of the greatest coaches. We wish him the best.”

California coach Mike Montgomery, who coached against Olson for 18 years while the head coach at Stanford (1986-2004), equated bringing a team into Tucson to going “to the dentist for a root canal” because it was so difficult to win.

Apparently, the Golden Bears had the right painkiller. It came in the form of 3-pointers. Cal entered the game as the nation’s top 3-point shooting team, hitting at an amazing 43.9 percent.

Randle was UA’s biggest ache as he hit back-to-back 3-pointers to give his team a 65-62 lead with 5:56 left. He followed it with another trey – his seventh of the game to that point – to give Cal a 68-63 lead with 3:23 left. It was his fifth consecutive basket of the half.

“I don’t know if they thought I was going to shoot the long shot, but I was confident,” Randle said.

“Defensively, we just didn’t do a good enough job,” Pennell said. “We didn’t get out on their shooters. I wish I could tell you why. We had that scouted.”

Randle’s sixth straight basket was the most painful for UA. After replays showed he was the last to touch the ball before it went out-of-bounds – the refs ruled it Cal’s ball – he hit a 25-footer as the shot clock expired. There was 1:55 left in the game.

“We should have chased him out of that 3-point shot,” Pennell said. “He hits a heck of a shot. You don’t expect him to hit something quite that deep.”

Cal’s Patrick Christopher nailed a 3-pointer, just after UA’s Nic Wise fouled out with 1:41 left.

Randle, who went into the game hitting 45 percent from the 3-point arc, finished with a career-high 31 points, 24 coming from beyond the arc.

Budinger had 28 points, but UA is flirting with not making it to 20 wins for the second consecutive season after going 20 straight with at least 20 victories. The Cats also need to beat Stanford to finish .500 in the Pac-10.

Arizona entered the night in fifth place, just a half-game ahead of sixth-place Washington State. But now UA has lost four straight after winning seven straight, something that got UA back in the hunt for another NCAA berth.

What’s been missing since the win streak?

“Collective effort,” Budinger said. “I think some guys get down on themselves and they perform poorly, not on the offensive end but the defensive end is where we had risen to the occasion and we have not brought that lately.”

After falling behind early, the Wildcats took control of the first half by going on an 18-4 run, capped off by a Budinger 3-pointer with 8:46 left in the half. By then, Arizona had a 23-11 lead.

But Cal came right back, closing to 26-22. UA went on a 10-0 run, thanks to a Budinger three, but the Bears closed with nine points to keep it close at the half.

UA’s Jordan Hill, who suffered a severely sprained ankle against Washington last weekend, appeared healthy. He had 24 points and 14 rebounds. Pennell said did an admirable job, particularly after not practicing all week because of the injury.

“We just didn’t get after it on the defensive end,” Budinger said. “In games like this toward the middle of the second half is usually when we get after it. We never had that (Thursday).”


16 Three-pointers by Cal, a season high for a UA opponent

0 Turnovers by Cal in the second half.

31 Points by Cal’s Jerome Randle, 24 from the 3-point line.


With 1:55 left, Jerome Randle shakes loose for a 25-foot three-pointer at the shot clocker buzzer to put Cal up 71-66.

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