Sometimes it takes a village to win a game. Heck, most times it does and Sunday night that was the case for the Arizona Wildcats in its easier-than-expected win over Stanford at McKale.
Four Arizona Wildcats scored in double figures to give the UA a 79-54 win and extend its winning streak over the Cardinal to 19 straight.
And in the process started a streak of its own. After losing seven straight going into the weekend, Arizona has now won two straight and appears to have gotten some of its groove back.
It was Ira Lee who led the charge with 16 points. Make that excitable points in helping UA gain some confidence and some momentum going into next week’s games with the Oregon schools. UA is 16-12 overall and 7-8 in the Pac-12.
“I really think our team is improving,” UA coach Sean Miller said. “I noticed it on the mountain trip, even though we weren’t able to win a game, we had some great moments in both games … We have strong leadership and we never really dissolved in our locker room. Obviously, getting Brandon Williams back … you can get a sense that’s just a shot in the arm and gives us some much-needed depth and much-needed fire power. We’re a different team with him for sure.”
Translation: Arizona’s village got a little bit stronger with the addition of Williams, who hadn’t played in three weeks because of right knee injury.
There was the thought that the player most affected by Williams absence was sophomore Brandon Randolph given the recent slump he’s been in. Randolph had 10 points, hitting 4 of 10 shots, including 2 of 3 3-pointers.
“I think all our guys missed Brandon,” Miller said, “because the style that Brandon plays is one that he’s a playmaker. He finds you for open shots. In transition, he can both score and pass. Obviously, he can be a double figure scorer for us.”
Williams, in 17 minutes, had just four points, but his presence was felt because of those minutes, given it gave UA added depth (which is critical).
“It’s nice to have depth … it’s nice to have quality depth,” said Miller. “So, when you sub there is not a drop off. Hopefully, for his sake and our sake we can keep growing him, building him so that at some not only is he back but he returns to the role he had before he left.”
Anything to help Arizona get through what’s left of the schedule of Oregon, Oregon State and then Arizona State before the all-important Pac-12 Tournament in Las Vegas in less than three weeks. Miller has already resorted to his team playing in a Wednesday game against another lower division team. Some of the games the rest of the way would have to fall Arizona’s way in order to avoid a Wednesday game.
“We can’t control that,” Miller said. “But what we definitely can control is to be that team that that other that other group doesn’t want to play. How we’re playing this week and next week will go a long way towards establishing that.
“College basketball’s about the finish and I hope we can be healthy and maybe be playing our best as we as we approach the finish.”
It would help to continue to see Lee play like he’s playing; Chase Jeter playing like he’s playing; Justin Coleman leading (he had 14 points and seven rebounds); and Randolph and Ryan Luther continue to hit shots on the perimeter. Of course, Arizona may need more, but Sunday was a good sign.
Video: Hear what Arizona players Justin Coleman and Ira Lee had to say after Sunday night’s win over Stanford as the Wildcats completed a home sweep of the Bay Area schools https://t.co/oU8SnWKV6T
Lee had an Oscar-worthy performance, given his antics on the court, featuring a couple of power-move dunks and a 15-foot jumper that hit nothing but the bottom of the net. He had never looked better. He said he has slowed down “and played within the game and playing hard.”
He added now he’s seeing the results of all his hard work.
“Ira was inspiring; he was ready to play the game,” Miller said. “Ira is one of the hardest workers … he’s getting smarter on the court and we’re playing him more with Chase and he’s more comfortable now than what he used to be. The combination of Chase and Ira could have been the difference in the game.”
Combined they were 13 for 17 from the floor and combined for 11 rebounds.
“We got him the ball inside a lot, and he has a better feel for how that works maybe than he would have two months ago,” Miller said of Lee.
Clearly, Lee is feeling more comfortable after what has been a gradual improvement all season. He’s come on the scene lately and has been a key.
“It feels great,” Lee said.
In fact, if he hits a basket you know he’s hit a basket. And if he dunks it, you REALLY know he’s dunked it given his overzealous reaction it.
“I like to see McKale jumping,” he said with a smile. “I try to bring that energy to my team and the fans.”
Coleman said he’s never seen a teammate get so excited on a dunk.
“Sometimes I say, ‘Ira, get back on defense,” Coleman said. “And he’s like, ‘Oh snap, I gotta get back on defense.’”
When asked if he’s ever had a player who has had more enthusiasm for a dunk, Miller said yes. Then qualified it by saying, “nobody has celebrated every made field goal more than Ira and that’s a point between him and I. We want him to be enthusiastic, but you have to make the jump hook and run back. I think all of us appreciate his smile and appreciate his love for the game. He wants to do well and it’s nice to see him be rewarded for his work.”