The Wildcats have now won 19 straight over the Cardinal, a streak that stretches back to January 2009. Meanwhile, another lengthy streak — Arizona’s seven-game losing skid that it snapped Thursday against Cal — was pushed further into the past.
“Seven in a row, we’ve been waiting for this,” said UA forward Ira Lee. “It’s great to get back on track.”
Four Arizona players scored in double figures, with Lee notching a career-high 16 points on 6-of-7 shooting. Justin Coleman and Chase Jeter chipped in 14 apiece, the latter doing so despite fouling out with 5:29 left.
Brandon Randolph added 10 points (all in the second half) and made two 3s, perhaps breaking out of the shooting slump that has dogged him for most of Pac-12 play. Williams, out since Jan. 26 with a sore right knee, played 18 minutes off the bench.
“He brings more firepower, he brings more scoring and without our brother we can’t play good,” Coleman said of Williams. “So having him back, we played together, we played as a team, we played for each other.”
Williams did not appear to be limited by his injury and was unscathed after crashing into the scorer’s table while chasing down a loose ball in the first half. The freshman only scored four points, but dished out three assists, displaying playmaking chops the Wildcats have sorely missed over the last month.
Arizona (16-12, 7-8) went 1-5 in the six games Williams missed, but is now 15-7 when he suits up.
“It’s a shot in the arm and gives us some much needed depth and equally some much needed firepower,” said UA coach Sean Miller. “Man, we’re a different team with him for sure. Even in the role he played tonight.”
Arizona is different team when healthy, period. This was UA’s first time being at full strength since Jan. 17 against Oregon. Not only did Williams return, but Jeter, who averaged 13.5 points in the sweep of the Bay Area schools, is returning to form after battling a nagging back injury in January.
“It’s nice to have quality depth, so that when you sub there’s not a drop off,” Miller said. “And we’re a deeper team all the way around with Brandon, so knock on wood for his sake and for our sake that we can keep growing him and building him.”
The Wildcats, who shot 44 percent and only turned the ball over nine times, jumped out to an early 14-3 lead and were up 31-23 heading into the locker room, weathering a few Stanford runs. The Cardinal (14-13, 7-8) cut the deficit to three twice, but Arizona answered with buckets both times.
Stanford only shot 40 percent from the field and leading scorer KZ Okpala was held to 10 points, unable to find much space in the lane. The Wildcats made a point to pack the paint, knowing the Cardinal are one of the worst 3-point shooting teams in the country.
“We’ve been emphasizing the pack-line all week,” Lee said. “We were really tight inside and guys were taking charges. Brandon Randolph took like three, four charges, so just keep it tight inside and they weren’t able to get to the free throw line and honestly that’s what stopped them from scoring.”
Arizona increased its lead to double digits early in the second half, before the Cardinal sank consecutive 3s to make it 37-33 with 15:14 left.
That is when Williams drove into the lane and kicked out a pass to Randolph, who buried a 3. Alex Barcello drilled a triple a few moments later to extend UA’s lead to 49-39 with 12:01 left, and Randolph hit again from deep to make it 52-41, this time off an assist from Coleman.
Two free throws by Bryce Wills trimmed UA’s lead to 58-50 with 4:44 left, but that was as close as the Cardinal would get.
The eccentric Lee threw down a pair of thunderous dunks to put UA up by 16 in the final minutes, punctuating the win and giving the Wildcats a jolt of confidence heading into the final three games of the regular season.
“We have B Will back, everybody’s playing their best basketball, Brandon Randolph is hitting his shots again. So, shoot, I think we’re fine,” Lee said.
With the win, the Wildcats move into a three-way tie for seventh in the Pac-12 with Stanford and Colorado. Arizona is two games behind Utah, which is in fourth place, the last position to get a prized first-round bye in the Pac-12 Tournament.
The Wildcats are a long shot to crack the top four, but the convincing sweep of the Bay Area schools shows they could be a tough out in Las Vegas — if they have a full deck of cards to play with, that is.
“I think we’re pretty locked in that we’re gonna be one of the teams to play on Wednesday and we can’t control that,” Miller said. “But what we definitely can control is to be that team that the group that’s playing us doesn’t want to play. And how we’re playing this week and next week will go a long way towards establishing that. College basketball is about the finish and I hope we can be healthy and maybe be playing our best as we approach the finish.”