TUCSON, Ariz. – Talk about your senior moments. Seventh-ranked Arizona had two against Stanford on Wednesday night.
For Arizona this year, there’s been a lot of ROI. Return on investment? Nope. Rallying on intuition from its senior leaders, Solomon Hill and Mark Lyons.
The Wildcats did it again and on the big broad shoulders of its seniors with a dose of Angelo Chol (more later).
Arizona moved to 20-2 overall, 8-2 Pac-12 and now has a half-game lead over Oregon in the conference after coming from behind to beat Stanford 73-66 on McKale Center’s 40th birthday.
Happy B-Day indeed.
Arizona coach Sean Miller said one can make a case where the win was the best one of the season.
The Wildcats can thank the seniors, who had 26 of UA’s final 35 points.
“Solomon took over the game in the last stretch like seniors do,” Lyons said.
And Lyons took control as best he could from the start, despite Arizona’s continued bad habit of falling behind early.
Miller said Lyons had his best day as a Wildcat. He said Lyons was the “best player on the court.” And that he attributed to his point guard finally getting the message to be a point guard.
“On the 107th meeting it clicked,” Miller said, with a smile. “I don’t know what I was wearing, but we had it going together. It’s not easy to become a point guard. It’s unfair to say that Mark isn’t one. He’s a combo guard. He can score, and without his scoring punch we’d be nowhere near where we are.”
Arizona had to rally from a 10-0 deficit in a back-and-forth game before taking control in the final five minutes — as has become an almost-every-game routine.
“Lyons and Hill made a big difference in the end there,” Stanford coach Johnny Dawkins said. “They played as seniors should.”
Lyons and Hill combined for 48 of UA’s 73. Thirty-five of those came in the second half — 20 from Hill, who played through four fouls and came back strong after a poor first 20 minutes. Hill finished with 23 points; Lyons with 25.
“I think we do a pretty good job at (leading) throughout the year,” Hill said. “We just had to in this situation. Me and Mark had open shots. And we made the most of it.”
Hill made 6 of 7 shots in the second half after shooting 1 for 6 in the first.
“Solomon is a great player,” said Miller. “He wasn’t himself at halftime. It’s never easy to all of sudden turn it on in the second half. He was spectacular in the second half.”
The Wildcats needed every bit of that in a game in which freshman forward Grant Jerrett sat out with a stress reaction in his left foot, freshman forward Brandon Ashley fouled out in just 13 minutes of play, freshman center Kaleb Tarczewski had one point and two rebounds in an ineffective 13 minutes and normally reliable junior guard Nick Johnson managed just two points on 1-of-5 shooting over 30 minutes.
It’s unclear if Jerrett will return to face California on Sunday. The good thing for Arizona is it may have found a solid replacement in Chol, who had played sparingly throughout the season.
The sophomore played a season-high 24 minutes and had eight rebounds and six points. His basket gave Arizona the lead for good at 56-54 with 4:05 left.
Despite all his praise for Lyons and Hill, Miller said the story of the night was Chol, who went into the game averaging 7.8 minutes a game.
“Be ready Chol, be ready, you’re going to get your opportunity (so) be ready,” Miller said of his constant refrain to Chol all season.
Chol was ready – although he did admit to being “frustrated’’ at times this year waiting for his turn.
“What makes Angelo so special is he’s the same every day,” Miller said. “When we told him about his opportunity, and when it did happen, he was prepared to be successful.”
What Miller liked even more was that his defense against Stanford’s frontcourt.
“By the way, if he didn’t do it, it was game over, because we didn’t have anybody else,” Miller said.
Every move Chol made brought on huge cheers from the crowd.
“That gave me energy,” Chol said.
Miller said he almost feels guilty that he hasn’t played Chol more.
“He’s one of those kids that when he doesn’t play, I hate looking at him,” Miller said, “because he’s such a great kid. The best way to get that opportunity (to play) is to do what he did in tonight’s game.