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Jeff Eisenberg

As Washington struggles, Arizona seizes control of Pac-10 race

Jeff Eisenberg
The Dagger

When Arizona forward Derrick Williams woke up in his Oakland hotel room Friday morning, he could hardly contain his excitement about the Wildcats taking over sole possession of first place in the Pac-10 the night before.

"Good morning!" he tweeted. "Haven't been this excited in a while ... 1st place ... Not over yet ... Still have work to do and have to get better!"

Williams may experience waking up in first place for a while thanks to point guard MoMo Jones picking up the slack after Arizona's star forward fouled out in the final minute of regulation at Cal on Saturday night.

Jones tied the game with a three-point play late in regulation and a 3-pointer with five seconds left in double overtime, then sealed a 107-105 Arizona victory with a go-ahead lay-in with 1:03 left in the third overtime. The Wildcats are now 1 1/2 games in front of second-place UCLA and two games ahead of conference favorite Washington, an enviable place to be with only seven league games remaining.

Part of the reason that Arizona has surged to the top of the Pac-10 is that Washington is experiencing the same road woes it endured a year ago when it lost six conference road games. The Huskies appeared to break their road jinx in late December when they completed a road sweep of UCLA and USC, yet they've dropped four of five on the road since including this week's surprising lost weekend in Oregon.

Credit Arizona for taking advantage of Washington's struggles this week by winning at Stanford and Cal, two teams with a combined 19-6 record at home besides their losses to the Wildcats.

Arizona scored 18 of the next 24 points after Stanford forged a tie at 60 apiece with four minutes to go on Thursday night. Then in a back-and-forth classic in Berkeley two nights later in which both teams played without their top scorers throughout overtime as a result of fouls, the Wildcats survived because of a pair of New Yorkers.

Jones scored a season-high 27 points on 9-for-18 shooting, eclipsing double figures for the sixth consecutive game. Kevin Parrom had a season-high 25 points on 9-for-12 shooting and chipped in six rebounds and six assists. Williams finished with 12 points and 18 rebounds prior to fouling out.

The road to a conference championship is favorable for Arizona since it now has four of seven remaining games in Tucson.

In what was supposed to be a rebuilding season for the Wildcats, Sean Miller's team suddenly has the program's best chance to win at least a share of the conference title for the first time since the 2004-05 team that went to the Elite Eight.

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