Coach Sean Miller has been hoping his bench would be more of a strength this season after being almost nonexistent. On Thursday night, those reserves helped win the game for the Arizona Wildcats.
Sophomore Ira Lee scored a career-high 12 points, pacing a second unit that contributed 25 points in Arizona’s 75-70 win over the Stanford Cardinal at Maples Pavilion. It was the 18th consecutive win for the Wildcats (12-4, 3-0 Pac-12) over Stanford (7-8, 0-3).
Lee was one of two bench players in double figures, with Ryan Luther scoring 10. Brandon Randolph led Arizona with 17 points (and a career-best eight rebounds) but was just 4-of-15 from the field, while Brandon Williams had 12 and Chase Jeter added 10 but struggled with fouls all night.
It was arguably the best overall performance of Lee’s career, doing so despite picking up three fouls in the first half and playing most of the second half with four.
Arizona led 40-38 at the half and was up 42-38 when Stanford went on an 8-0 run to lead 46-42 with 16:54 to go. The Wildcats missed 11 of their first 13 shots after halftime, enabling the Cardinal to extend to a 50-44 edge with 12:42 left, before Dylan Smith was fouled on a layup and made the free throw to halve the deficit.
Then Justin Coleman took over, unlike at any point since his scorching three-game stretch at the Maui Invitational. The senior scored or assisted on three straight baskets to start a 10-0 run to put Arizona up 57-52 with 8:52 left.
The run extended to 14-2, allowing Arizona to build its lead to seven at 61-54 with 6:59 remaining.
But then one of the Wildcats’ trademark scoring droughts popped up at the worst time. Arizona went more than 3 ½ minutes without a point, with Stanford getting to within 61-60 with 3:46 on jumper by KZ Okpala.
Arizona couldn’t stop Okpala all night. The sophomore scored a career-high 29 on 11-of-16 shooting, the most by an opposing player this season and the sixth foe to score at least 20.
The teams traded scores the next two-plus minutes, with Williams’ two free throws keeping Arizona up 69-66 with 1:42 left. A basket inside by Lee, who was 5 of 8 from the field and had four rebounds, put Arizona up 71-68 with 41 seconds to go and then the Wildcats made a stop on the defensive end, one of the few in a night when Stanford shot 54 percent including 58.3 percent in the second half.
With the Cardinal forced to foul, Josh Sharma slapped at Coleman as he dribbled near midcourt, causing him to fall down and appear to re-injure the left shoulder he dislocated in practice on Dec. 31. Lee took his free throws, making both with 17.1 seconds left to ice the game.
Arizona jumped out to a 7-0 lead, holding Stanford scoreless for the first 2:58 as the Cardinal missed their first six shots. They managed to get back into the game with the help of a seemingly endless string of Wildcat fouls.
Lee picked up two in a 35-second span, with a turnover wedged in between, and Jeter had to go to the bench with his second foul at the 13:46 mark of the first half. Lee got his third with 8:54 to go, yet had to stay in the game, and both Williams and Smith also picked up two fouls in the first 12 minutes and change.
Later, Luther managed to commit three fouls in a 50-second span.
That led to Stanford taking 18 first-half free throws, to five for Arizona, yet the Wildcats only trailed for 13 seconds in the first half thanks to some red-hot three-point shooting. Arizona was 6 of 8 from deep in the opening 20 minutes.
Arizona finished 7 of 12 from deep but only shot 41.3 percent from the field. The Wildcats were money from the foul line, though, making 16 of 18 including 12 of 13 in the second half, while Stanford missed 11 of 26 free throws.