If only the Arizona Wildcats could play all their games against the Pac-12’s Bay Area schools.
Sunday’s 70-54 over the Stanford Cardinal, combined with Thursday’s 25-point win over the California Golden Bears, means Arizona is now 7-8 in conference play. Four of those wins are against the Bay Area teams, while the Wildcats are 3-8 against the rest of the league.
They entered the game in line to face Stanford in the 7-10 game on the opening night of the Pac-12 tournament next month in Las Vegas but are now in a three-way tie with the Cardinal and Colorado for seventh place.
Where they end up will depend on what happens during the final three regular-season games, at the Oregon schools and then the March 9 finale at home against ASU.
But before we get too ahead of ourselves, let’s look back at Arizona’s first weekend sweep since … sweeping the Bay schools on the road in early January.
Ira Lee has become an unstoppable offensive force
Remember earlier this season when, seemingly every time the ball was in his hands, Ira Lee would either lose it out of bounds or give it to someone on the opposing team?
It wasn’t really that bad, but Lee was very turnover prone—as well as foul-prone—and those two things kept him from being a consistent contributor for Arizona. Yet since mid-December, and even more so once Pac-12 play began, Lee has become much better with the ball, and that’s enabled him to show off an effective (albeit uncreative) offensive skill set.
Lee scored a career-high 16 points on 6-of-7 shooting against Stanford, continuing a recent run that has seen him make 19 of his last 23 shots over a five-game span. Many of his makes are dunks—find you someone who loves you as much as Lee does flushing one home—but if that’s what works then don’t mess with it.
Now averaging 8.1 points in Pac-12 play, Lee has become an invaluable piece off the bench. Even more so when you consider Arizona’s only true big man can’t seem to stay on the floor lately …
Chase Jeter’s body control continues to be an issue
When Jeter suffered a back injury against Oregon State on Jan. 19, causing him to miss the next two games, Arizona’s already vulnerable front line was absolutely decimated. That remained the case even after Jeter returned against ASU on Jan. 31 as he had to work himself back into playing shape.
Arizona coach Sean Miller predicted Jeter would have a big week against the Bay Area schools, and he did so in averaging 13.5 points on 13-of-18 shooting. But he also fouled out against Stanford, his sixth disqualification of the season and third in the last six games.
Thankfully it didn’t hurt the Wildcats on Sunday, but his penchant for getting into foul trouble has been a problem ever since the Gonzaga game in Maui when he was ejected midway through the second half amid a momentum-swinging run by Gonzaga.
What’s weird is that Jeter is far from overly aggressive. If anything he’s too timid sometimes, but he still manages to get singled out for the slightest contact he makes. Maybe he should just start bowling people over and get his money’s worth if that’s how it’s going to be.
Brandon Williams makes everyone else better
When last we saw Arizona’s promising freshman guard, Williams was the lone bright spot in a 90-69 loss at UCLA when he scored 19 points in front of a hometown crowd. Then it was learned that he’d experienced pain in his surgically repaired knee during that game, prompting Arizona to shut him down for what ended up being six games.
Miller teased Thursday night there was a “slim chance” Williams would make his return against Stanford, with the caveat that anything short of him being pain-free would keep him off the court.
It wasn’t just Williams that felt no pain on Sunday, it was also his teammates, who to a man greatly benefitted from having Arizona’s most dynamic player back in action.
The stat line, viewed in a vacuum, isn’t that impressive:
But anyone who watched Williams during his 18 minutes of action can attest to what he did.
Less than two minutes into his return he fed Jeter underneath for a basket. Later he led a break and passed back to a trailing Ryan Luther for a three, and in the second half he drove and kicked to Brandon Randolph for a drained triple.
Randolph had his best game in a long time, scoring 10 points on 4-of-10 shooting, and when he was on the court with Williams he was 3 for 3. Think he’s glad he’s not the only Brandon in action?