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Post-Stanford notebook: On Ira Lee’s breakout, keys to Arizona’s win, ‘no answer’ for Okpala, and more

Notes and quotes from the Wildcats’ 18th straight win over the Cardinal

oregon-vs-arizona-game-thread-live-stream-tv-channel-espn-network-college-basketball Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

The Arizona Wildcats own the Stanford Cardinal and Maples Pavilion.

Arizona (12-4, 3-0) picked up its 18th straight win over the Cardinal (7-8, 0-3) on Wednesday, hanging on for a 75-70 victory in Palo Alto.

Our full recap can be found here, and here are some additional postgame notes:

The Ira Lee game

It was the best of times and it was the worst of times for Ira Lee.

The sophomore picked up two fouls within a minute of checking into the game, then added a third foul just five minutes later. Sandwiched between that was a maddening turnover, the kind that plagued him early in the season.

But then everything changed. Lee threw down two thunderous dunks on back-to-back possessions, drilled a mid-range jumper, rolled hard to the rim for a layup to put Arizona up three with 41 seconds left, then drained two free throws with 21 seconds left to help UA seal the game.

“He practices really hard, he practices with great energy,” said UA coach Sean Miller. “When you do that, you hope that when that big moment arrives that they come through, but he had the biggest basket of the game and then he made the two biggest free throws of the game, and I’m just really excited for him.”

Despite the dismal start, Lee finished with a career-high 12 points — eight in the first half — to go along with four rebounds in 18 minutes. Arizona needed every bit of it because Chase Jeter and, well, Arizona’s entire frontcourt was hindered by foul trouble all game.

“I wanted to win, we wanted to win,” said Lee, who finished with four fouls. “Coach put his trust in me by putting me in. Chase fouled out and obviously I had to step up and I’m happy we got the road win.”

Lee was averaging 6.5 points per game over his last four games entering Wednesday, cutting back on turnover and fouls too.

“Ira did a great job tonight,” UA assistant coach Justin Gainey said on AM 1290 after the game. “The last five games he’s been coming on, and it’s a tribute to how hard he works every day. He’s added pieces to his game every day. He’s been working and working and working. I’m glad to see it.”

Lee led a bench unit that notched 25 points against Stanford and is averaging 23.3 points per game in Pac-12 play.

Ryan Luther had 10 points, three rebounds, and three assists coming off a big game against Utah. His nine field goal attempts tied the season-high he set against Cal Poly all the way back on Nov. 11.

“He, like Ira, is putting in the extra time,” Gainey said. “He’s working on his shot and his confidence is growing every day. It was good to see him be confident and aggressive. Nine shots are good for him.”

Shooting and turnovers won Arizona this game

Arizona shot an uncharacteristically hot 7 for 12 from 3, sparked by two early 3s by Brandon Williams, who has struggled from distance all season.

“It gave the entire team confidence,” Gainey said of Williams’ two makes, which accounted for six of Arizona’s first 10 points.

The Wildcats also went 16 of 18 from the free-throw line. Meanwhile, Stanford shot 1 for 8 from 3, and 15 for 26 from the stripe. Arizona also won the turnover battle 10-19, only committing two in the second half.

If you are looking for an easy way to analyze how Arizona won this game despite the foul trouble, there you go.

“We teach the next play mentality, whether you think it’s a good call or you think is a bad call, it really doesn’t matter,” Gainey said. “You just have to move on to the next play. And there were a lot of whistles which made play a little choppy, but it’s the circumstances and it is what it is, you got to move on to the next play. And I thought our guys did a good job of being resilient and not wilting to that.”

No defensive stopper

KZ Okpala torched the Wildcats for 29 points, six rebounds, and four assists on 16 shots. No 3s were necessary. The 6-foot-8 wing slashed and slashed his way to the rim, finishing over smaller defenders.

Arizona even went to a 2-3 zone with 1:40 left to try to curtail Okpala’s scoring, but he connected with Josh Sharma for an alley-oop to cut UA’s lead to 69-68 with 1:01 left after the Wildcats surrendered an offensive rebound.

“We knew KZ Okpala was a terrific player,” Miller said. “I think he’s one of the best players in the Pac-12. We hit a six-minute stretch in the second half where we really defended him the right way. Dylan Smith guarded him, we gave great help, we maybe drew two charges, and you have to crowd him. You have to make him pass it. You can’t let him will himself to the rim. Other than that six minutes, we didn’t have an answer.”

This is how it’s gonna be all season

The talent discrepancy between the best and worst teams in the Pac-12 is minimal this year, so you better get used to these grind-it-out, every-possession-counts games because Arizona will be deadlocked in them the rest of the season.

KenPom projects Arizona will only win two conference games by double figures all season, the home contests against lowly Washington State and Cal.

So far the Wildcats have been nails in tight moments in conference play, starting 3-0 with an average margin of victory of 5.3.

“I think more than anything on the road you just have to have a sense of belief,” Miller said.

Coleman aggravates shoulder

Arizona point guard Justin Coleman aggravated his left shoulder injury after taking a hard foul in the final 30 seconds of the second half, but the Wildcats are optimistic he will be good to go for Saturday’s game against Cal.

Our full story on that can be found here. Here is the play in case you missed it: