The Arizona Wildcats managed to maintain their perfect record in Pac-12 Play with a tight victory over the Stanford Cardinal on the road.
While Arizona’s conference record may be perfect, their performances have decidedly been average. The conference’s down year means the Wildcats are still prime contenders for the Pac-12 crown, and wins like this help drastically.
Here are three positive and three negative takeaways from Wednesday’s game.
We’ll discuss the, ahem, frequency at which fouls were called below, but when Arizona did make it to the line, shots fell with reassuring certainty. The team as a whole went 16 for 18 from the line, and the team hit its free throws down the stretch to keep the lead.
Every player was almost perfect from the line, but Brandon Randolph’s performance stands out. He hit all six of his free throw attempts, making up for his poor shooting inside the arc. Randolph finished with a team high 17 points, two of which closed out the game with two seconds remaining. An 89% performance from the stripe is unsustainable, but anything close to that could be enough to grind out some more tough wins in conference play.
With an exceedingly small lineup manning the court for Arizona this season, 3-point shooting has become paramount this year.
Results have been mixed, but in Palo Alto every shot seemed to fall. 7 out of 12 threes hit the bottom of the net for the Wildcats, and every player who shot at least two deep balls made at least 50% of them, minus Ryan Luther, who went 1 for 3.
The first half was especially impressive, with 6 of 8 3s falling. In most games, that would have been enough to pull away from a mediocre Cardinal team, but instead it was just enough to create a winning margin.
A Win is a Win
Arizona shot pretty well and distributed better than the Cardinal — 14-9 over Stanford in assists, 10-19 in the turnover margin — but nobody would mistake this for a good performance, and the fact that it ended in a win could be hugely important as the conference season winds down, and maybe even up until Selection Sunday.
This roster is clearly a tournament-level squad on poor talent, even if they’re below Arizona’s usual standard. Inconsistent performances have doomed them to four early losses, and it’s taken Sean Miller outcoaching his opponents to get key close victories.
I absolutely despise when people resort to blaming poor performances on the referees. And while it is true that Arizona did themselves no favors in regards to making contact with Stanford players, a huge amount of fouls were called, with a lot of them coming at questionable times.
Still, the majority of the blame can be traced back to Arizona. Chase Jeter fouled out on one of the aforementioned questionable decisions, but he’s been committing a few too many fouls per game all season. Fellow forwards Ira Lee and Ryan Luther finished with 4 and 3 fouls, respectively, and the ‘Cats were lucky that Stanford had an abysmal night (15 for 26) at the charity stripe. This game was a bit of an aberration because of the officiating, but fouls remain a weakness for this squad.
There’s no way Arizona was going to replace Deandre Ayton. Chase Jeter has done admirably, but he simply isn’t the paint presence Ayton was, and it shows. The paint was often unoccupied on defense, and when you’re facing KZ Okpala, that is a major issue.
Okpala went off for 29 points and 6 boards, with many of his scores coming off high-ball screens. Stanford outrebounded UA 35-31, and had 8 blocks on Arizona players, while Arizona never blocked a Stanford shot. Nobody would mistake Stanford for a paragon of physicality and talent, so being eviscerated down low like this is quite disconcerting.
Arizona needs more 2-point buckets and better paint presence in order to stay at the top of the Pac-12 standings.
Justin Coleman’s Injury
There’s not much word yet on whether Coleman’s injury is a serious aggravation of a shoulder injury he suffered a few games back. Either way, seeing one of your best shooters and a starting guard go down on an intentional foul really stings.
Initially, Coleman appeared to be reacting to Josh Sharma fouling Coleman in what Richard Jefferson referred to as “his ting-ting”, but as he fell to the hardwood he landed awkwardly on that left shoulder. He reentered the game later to perform Arizona’s final inbound, but was barely moving his left arm. Based on his history with that arm and his reaction, it’s likely Coleman could sit the Cal game, since he might not be needed for a victory anyway. Still, any injury is terrible news, and hopefully it isn’t serious.