Hot-Shooting Wildcats Too Much For Cal

AP Sports Writer

BERKELEY, Calif. - In the opening minute, Salim Stoudamire made a good defensive play against Joe Shipp, the Pac-10's leading scorer. Moments later, Stoudamire hit a 3-pointer for the game's first points.

In essence, that was top-ranked Arizona's game plan on Thursday night: big plays on both ends by Stoudamire and Luke Walton. It was simple - and it was more than enough to hold off No. 23 California.

Stoudamire hit six 3-pointers and scored 20 points as Arizona took control of the conference race with its seventh straight victory, 88-75 over the Golden Bears.

Walton also scored 20 points, hitting all three of his 3-point attempts as the Wildcats (22-2, 14-1) snapped Cal's 17-game home winning streak. The fans who razzed the Wildcats from the moment they entered Haas Pavilion were silent and disappointed as Arizona maintained a healthy lead in the final seconds.

'I think the gap is narrowing. I told the team after the game, 'We're getting there.''
-- Cal coach Ben Braun

'It was nice to make this building quiet,' Walton said.

Arizona has won nine straight over the Golden Bears (19-6, 12-4), who lost at home for the first time since the Wildcats' visit last season.

With exceptional outside shooting by Stoudamire and Walton, the Wildcats eliminated Cal from contention for the Pac-10 crown. Arizona can clinch its 10th conference title of coach Lute Olson's tenure with a win at Stanford on Saturday.

'This is the fourth straight game where I felt we played as well as we've played all year,' Olson said. 'Toward the end of each half, the leadership of our seniors is vital. They're not shook up. They're going to make big plays.'

After beating Arizona State last weekend with a big game from their frontcourt, the Wildcats were sparked by their perimeter game against the Bears. In addition to Stoudamire's exceptional outside shooting, Jason Gardner had 15 points and seven rebounds.

Channing Frye added 15 points for Arizona.

Arizona made nine of its first 11 shots, including four 3-pointers by Stoudamire. Cal cut the lead to three points midway through the second half, but Stoudamire scored five straight points during a 13-4 run that put it away.

'We've been a team, all year, of runs,' Olson said. 'It seems like we're a good momentum team. When Cal made a couple of runs at us, we answered.'

Stoudamire's six 3-pointers matched his career best, set earlier this year against Kansas.

Walton, who has struggled for much of his senior season, went 7-for-9 from the field - an efficiency matched by Stoudamire, who also went 7-for-9.

'I don't remember those guys missing a shot, although I know they had to miss one or two,' Cal coach Ben Braun said. 'They withstood all of our runs, and their outside shooting was a big reason.'

Walton also played tight defense on Cal's Amit Tamir, holding one of the Pac-10's most dangerous outside shooters to 16 points on 5-of-13 shooting.

'It felt like a good game,' Walton said. 'Luckily, the first couple of shots went down.'

Shipp had 17 points and seven rebounds for Cal while playing with the flu and a noticeable limp from an undisclosed injury. Brian Wethers scored 18 points, but the rest of the Bears' roster beyond its top three scorers managed just 24 points.

'If you lose focus just that much,' Wethers said, holding his fingers an inch apart, 'a team like that will hurt you. We need to give a consistent effort, or we won't have a chance.'

Cal was the only Pac-10 team without a home loss this season.

The Golden Bears have ended Stanford's dominance against them with two straight victories over their Bay area rival, but the Pac-10's other perennial power still has their number. Arizona has won 17 of its last 19 meetings with Cal.

'I think the gap is narrowing,' Braun said. 'I told the team after the game, 'We're getting there.''

In the student section of Cal's deafening home crowd, there was a sign proclaiming that a Cal victory would be 'like stealing candy from a vending machine' - a reference to the Wildcats' much-publicized incident in Lawrence, Kan.

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