The Stanford men’s basketball team entered its Saturday matchup with the Arizona Wildcats knowing it needed a win to stay on the bubble for next month’s NCAA tournament. The Cardinal put up a great fight in front of an energetic home crowd, but ultimately the Wildcats proved to be too much, pulling away at the end for a 56-43 victory.
Stanford (16-7, 6-5 Pac-12) had its worst shooting performance of the season, shooting just 25.4 percent from the field and scoring its fewest points in a home game in over 25 years. Despite the offensive woes, the Cardinal kept the game close through tremendous defense. The Wildcats (16-8, 7-4) were held to just 38.3 percent shooting and only put up 56 points, their second-lowest total of the season.
At the start of the game, an Arizona blowout seemed likely, as the Wildcats stormed to an early lead. However, down 20-12 with six minutes left in the half, Stanford redshirt senior forward Josh Owens took over.
The captain recorded a massive block, then got an offensive rebound on the other end and converted the jumper. On the very next possession, Owens blocked another shot, which led to a three by freshman guard Chasson Randle. With the Wildcat’s lead down to just three, the momentum had clearly shifted Stanford’s way.
The Cardinal eventually tied the game at 23 and found itself down only 24-23 at the half. Stanford’s attack continued after the break, as sophomore guard Aaron Bright’s incredible dart into the lane for a layup gave the Cardinal its first lead of the game since the early first half.
The two teams traded buckets until the nine-minute mark, when an Owens offensive board and putback gave Stanford a 37-35 lead — although it would prove to be the Cardinal’s final lead of the game. At this point, Stanford began to struggle from the field. The Cardinal did not hit another field goal until Bright’s layup at the 2:36 mark, a drought that lasted long enough for the Wildcats to grab the lead for good.
With just two minutes left, the Cardinal was down eight, and Randle attempted to lead a dramatic comeback. The freshman had proven himself to be utterly fearless throughout the game, constantly slashing into the paint and using his superior speed and acrobatic moves to get to the rim.
Randle cut to the hoop again, just missing what would have been an unbelievable layup, getting his own rebound and converting the bucket to cut the lead to six. Despite his height disadvantage, Randle finished with six rebounds to go along with 10 points.
The Cardinal controlled the offensive boards the entire game, with 15 offensive rebounds to the Wildcats’ six. Owens had five offensive rebounds, while sophomore forward Josh Huestis added three. As was the story for much of the game, the Cardinal was simply unable to convert the putbacks and take advantage of its numerous opportunities. In fact, Stanford took 16 more shots than the Wildcats, yet made two fewer baskets.
With time winding down, the Cardinal frantically pushed the ball down the court, but committed two straight turnovers as it tried to create a miracle. Randle fouled out with 48 seconds left in the game, but at that point Stanford was down nine points and out of the contest.
Arizona capped the game with two thunderous dunks from freshman guard Nick Johnson, who had been harassed the entire game with chants of “air ball” after an embarrassing first half miss.
With the loss, Stanford fell to a tie for sixth in the Pac-12, three games behind leader Washington with just seven regular season games left. The Cardinal will head back on the road this week to face underachieving preseason favorite UCLA and Pac-12 bottom-dweller USC, needing wins badly as the Cardinal struggles to stay relevant in the conference and keep in the hunt for a berth in the Big Dance this March.