The Arizona Wildcats men’s basketball team (14-8, 5-4) is one game into the most difficult stretch of conference foes they’ll face all season.
Washington, California, Stanford and Colorado along with Arizona make up five of the seven teams tied for the top three spots in the Pac-12.
With eight teams in the conference separated by three games or less, the Wildcats still have a chance at a decent seed in the conference tournament next month.
What they don’t have is much room for error.
With four losses in nine Pac-12 games, Arizona is lucky to still be in the position they are.
After losing by a basket to the Huskies on Saturday, the Wildcats now turn their attention to the first place Golden Bears (17-5, 7-2).
Despite all their wins, Cal has proven to be vulnerable at times, losing games to both Oregon State and Washington State, two teams Arizona was able to defeat.
Here are three themes to watch for tonight (Happening now!) as the Wildcats make a trip through NorCal to take on the Golden Bears…
Of the 67 points Arizona scored on the Huskies, 28 of those points were scored by junior forward Solomon Hill.
Responsible for more than 40 percent of the offense, Hill dropped 19 of his 28 points in the second half, including a monster three with nine seconds remaining to tie the game at 67.
Eight of the Wildcats’ last 12 points in the final 2:29 were scored by Hill as Arizona erased a seven-point deficit.
Going 9/10 from the field, 2/2 from beyond the arc and 8/9 from the free throw line, Hill also managed to pull down 11 rebounds to record his third straight double-double.
Head coach Sean Miller challenged Hill to step up his game during conference play and it appears he has done just that.
Of Hill’s eight double-doubles this season six of them have come in nine Pac-12 games over the last month.
Whether it be hitting three straight free throws to force overtime with Florida in Florida, or his three-pointer against Washington…Hill might be the answer to the Wildcats’ late-game go-to-guy problems.
Call the Parrommedics
Just as he was showing signs of turning the corner in terms of health and production, junior G/F Kevin Parrom was dealt another setback on Saturday, suffering a season ending fractured to a bone in his right foot.
With the freshmen and bench struggling to contribute consistently, Arizona was and still is in desperate need of scoring.
Parrom had been answer the call as of late, scoring 34 points in his last four conference games, opposed to a total of 12 points in the first five Pac-12 games.
Now the pressure falls back on the guys with the green light to make it happen.
Guards Josiah Turner, Nick Johnson, Jordin Mayes and Brendon Lavender have all had their struggles this season.
Turner, just a freshman, is good for a few buckets every game but not enough.
Johnson exploded onto the scene early in the year but has since hit the proverbial freshman wall in terms of scoring, he is managing to continue to contribute in other ways but the Wildcats would gladly trade a few boards and assists for double-digit points.
Mayes has scored a combined two points in 45 minutes over the last three games.
The sophomore chips in a few assists from time-to-time but doesn’t do a whole lot else when his shot’s not falling.
Lavender has been the definition of streaky, hitting multiple threes in every other game over a 10-game stretch.
The Wildcats have won the last three contests when the senior’s shot is falling.
Centers of attention
With Parrom’s minutes up for grabs more is going to be asked of the Wildcats nonexistent centers.
Freshman big man Angelo Chol has shown flashes of potential on his way to outplaying junior center Kyryl Natyazhko for the few minutes head coach Sean Miller is dishing out to the five spot each night.
Two inches shorter than the 6’11 Natyazhko, Chol’s athleticism, aggressiveness and ability to hit the occasion stand-still jumper more than make up for the size gap.
The one major downside to playing a freshman is living with the mistakes.
As of now Chol is good for a few buckets, some boards and a block but he is still raw and playing somewhat out of position.
With that inexperience and added responsibility come fouls, turnovers and over helping on defense, which have hurt the team just as much as his presence down low has helped.
Speaking of not helping much, Natyazhko is being called on once again…to do something…anything…to contribute.
The Wildcats starting center to begin the season, Natyazhko has played a total of just 25 minutes in six conference games…the other three games he didn’t even see the court.
During that stretch he’s combined to score five points, pulling down seven rebounds in the process.
Two of the games he sat, Arizona lost by a basket.
With the incoming recruiting class and the way thing have been going, this will likely be Natyazhko’s last chance to prove himself before considering other options overseas.
It’s now or never.
Be sure to check out the game…
Time: 9 p.m. (Now!!!)
Spread: Cal by 8