In the midst of its longest losing streak in 36 years, it could be easy for the Arizona men’s basketball team to point fingers and lose hope in a season filled with ups and downs. It could also be understood if fans of the program didn’t come out to support a team going up against a team that had a losing streak twice as long. Yet neither of those things happened on Thursday night.
Ryan Luther had 19 points, and Arizona faithfully continued to show the support as the Wildcats held the worst offense in the Pac-12 to just 30 percent from the floor, propelling them to a 76-51 victory to end their seven-game losing streak.
Luther caught fire in the second half, scoring 13 points and using a personal 8-0 run to put things out of reach for Cal. Arizona connected on seven 3s in the second half, also getting 10 points from Alex Barcello, who finished with 14 points on the night.
“My teammates and my coaches do a good job of putting me in the right spots,” Luther said. “With so many teams in the Pac-12 playing zone, I’ve kinda got a rhythm of where my open spots are, where I gotta be aggressive and find my teammates.”
Head coach Sean Miller started his postgame press conference thanking the fans, noting that they came out when Arizona hasn’t given them much of a reason to lately.
“At a lot of places, if you’re on a seven-game losing streak when that's never happened before, it would be easily understood,” Miller said. “For the crowd to be there the way they were on a Thursday night in late February, its the greatest separator between Arizona and everybody else. Coming on the heels of how we’ve played and what we’ve gone through, I can’t tell you how much that means to the players on our team and the future.”
The Wildcats led 30-20 after a first half that saw both teams get out to slow starts and shoot below 40 percent. Arizona used a 9-0 run midway through the half to open up a double digit lead, getting half of its scoring from the bench. Barcello and freshman Devonaire Doutrive combined for 25 of the 31 UA bench points, with Doutrive establishing a new career high of 11 points. Chase Jeter was the other Wildcat in double figures, finishing with 13 points and seven rebounds.
Arizona will potentially look to add freshman Brandon Williams back into the fold Sunday against Stanford. The combo guard has missed the last six games with knee soreness, with Miller saying postgame there was a “slim” chance he would return for the Wildcats next game.
“I think once we get beyond Sunday, potentially more probable as we go on,” Miller said. “When you’re out as long as he’s been out, you don’t just wave a magic wand and all of a sudden he’s gonna score 18 points and look like he did against UCLA. There’s progression.”
The Wildcats still sit in 10th place in the conference but are only two games back in the loss column of fourth place and a first-round bye in the Pac-12 Tournament next month. They will look to improve their standing against the Cardinal, with tipoff set for 6 p.m. on ESPN2.
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