Arizona handles Stanford with help from bench
This might be the game senior center Matt Korcheck never forgets, and the game in which Arizona found its bench.
Yes, they coincided with one another, and on Thursday night, Korcheck and all-around solid contributions from the bench helped the seventh-ranked Wildcats get by host Stanford 89-82 at Maples Pavilion.
Arizona coach Sean Miller called it "the ultimate team win," as five Arizona players scored in double figures. Freshman Stanley Johnson led the way with 19 points.
The win, Arizona’s 10th consecutive over Stanford, moved the Wildcats into a first-place tie with Utah for the Pac-12 Conference lead.
Arizona (17-2, 5-1) proved to be too much in the second half. At one point it outscored Stanford 31-16 midway through the half.
Stanford (13-5, 4-2) made it close in the game’s final minute, getting the game to within two possessions at 86-80. But two free throws by Johnson and a massive dunk by Kaleb Tarczewski in the final seconds gave Arizona room to breathe. It was, however, the first time an opponent scored 80 or more points in 63 games against Arizona.
Yet Stanford didn’t have enough firepower to match Arizona, despite Chasson Randle’s game-high 26 points.
Arizona’s depth — used sparingly this season — showed what it could do for at least one game. Reserves contributed 26 points, with Gabe York having one of his better games with 13 points.
"Gabe York really came through in the clutch for us," Miller said. He hit two of three 3-point attempts and added seven free throws.
The bench was much-needed in game that featured 51 fouls, creating stop-and-start moments that had players in foul trouble and both coaches frustrated.
"The game was officiated in a very unique way," Miller said. "I thought in the second half both teams were able to play a little bit more. … We went to the line and went 24 for 36, which is OK."
Despite numerous players in foul trouble for both teams, Arizona reserve center Dusan Ristic was the only player to foul out.
But he was replaced by Korcheck, who had just eight points in eight games and averaged just 2.6 minutes per game. He entered the game and quickly hit a layup with 7:46 left to move it to 67-60 and then followed with a dunk to make it 71-62. And voila, with that he tied his career-high in points.
"I don’t know if I’ve ever been happier for a kid or more proud to coach a kid than him," Miller said of Korcheck. "He works hard every day. Sure enough, when you get called upon in a time of dire straits he really responded. We’re happy for Matt and happy for us because when we needed him, he really came through."
What Miller found out, especially with so many players doing well (not just Korcheck) is that he can turn to players like freshman guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright, freshman Ristic and York.
"Sometimes you learn about your own team in looking to the future," Miller said. "There may be a moment where Matt could defend a (power forward or center). He’s physical and can run … I’m happy for him."