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California 75, Arizona 66

BERKELEY, Calif. (AP) -- California coach Ben Braun preaches to
his team that every game is an equally important step during the
season.

For the most part, his players buy into that. But with first
place in the Pac-10 on the line for the Golden Bears against
nemesis Arizona, Leon Powe admitted this game was a little bit
bigger.

Powe dominated from the start, scoring 30 points to help Cal
move into a first-place tie with UCLA with a 75-66 victory Thursday
night.

"We came here talking about how this was a big game, not an
ordinary game," Powe said. "We needed this win. We were on our
home floor. It's important to protect the home court. If you can do
that, you have a good chance of winning a Pac-10 championship."

The Golden Bears (16-6, 10-3) won their sixth straight game and
are in position to win their first conference title since Pete
Newell's final season as coach in 1959-60.

Lute Olson, who has won 11 Pac-10 titles at Arizona, called Powe
"a man among boys" and said he believed Cal was good enough to
win the conference.

"They have a very nice balance of inside and outside," Olson
said. "And they have the man inside. Powe is special."

Arizona (15-10, 8-6) fell to fifth place in the conference with
the loss, putting in jeopardy the Wildcats' streak of 21 straight
NCAA tournament bids -- the longest active in the nation. Cal fans
chanted "N-I-T! N-I-T!" in the final minute.

The Wildcats have finished as low as fifth in the conference
only once since 1984, but they won the national championship after
finishing fifth in 1996-97. They will need a strong finish to even
have the opportunity to match that team's feat, starting Sunday at
Stanford.

Arizona kept its locker room closed a little longer than usual,
as the players tried to regroup.

"We just sat here and thought," said freshman Marcus Williams,
who led Arizona with 21 points. "Basically a mental thing where we
knew we didn't do the job and we didn't do our job defensively or
offensively so we just kind of had a moment of silence."

Powe took control from the opening possession, scoring on a spin
move to the basket. He came up with a loose ball on the defensive
end, taking it all the way with an around-the-back dribble for a
layup and three-point play.

The Bears scored the first nine points and never trailed,
avenging last month's loss at Arizona and giving them just their
second win in 16 games against the Wildcats.

"If we can get off to a quick start, the louder that place
gets," Powe said. "When it's loud, that's a tough place to play
in. When I was coming here as a little kid I was up there and my
chest was shaking and I wasn't even playing. To feel the atmosphere
in here, it's good for us and bad for the opposing team."

Arizona then went more than 5 minutes without a field goal early
in the second half as Cal turned a three-point game into a 48-36
lead on two free throws by Powe. Powe also fed DeVon Hardin for a
dunk during the stretch.

The Wildcats cut it to six with about 6 minutes left on a
3-pointer by Hassan Adams, but Ayinde Ubaka answered with a 3 for
Cal.

Jordan Robertson added 12 points for Cal and Ubaka and Richard
Midgley each had 11 as Cal shot 58 percent. Powe, coming off a
career-high 32 points last week against Stanford, also had 10
rebounds.

"Obviously they did a really good job against us last game,"
Midgley said. "We just tried to get it inside. We worked on a
couple of backdoor plays to get us easy layups. If you rebound, you
can get some easy buckets in transition. That's what we did."

Hardin got the crowd into it on defense in the first half,
blocking two shots by Adams on one possession -- a jumper from the
top of the key and then a drive to the basket.

Adams, the Wildcats' leading scorer at 18.3 points per game
coming into the contest, was held to seven points on 3-for-10
shooting.

"Usually about an hour from now we're watching Hassan Adams
dunking on somebody's head," Braun said. "He's the highlight
film. He's that good. You have to keep him from getting out in
transition and you have to get him stopped in half court. We did
that."

Arizona's Chris Rodgers, who was kicked off the team Jan. 18 for
undisclosed disciplinary reasons, scored three points in 22 minutes
off the bench.

"This is not about me, it's about the team," Rodgers said.
"We're trying our best to get back into the hunt."

Rod Benson, out since undergoing an operation on his right knee
Jan. 20, returned for Cal and scored one point in limited action.