Heading into its matchup against No. 3 Arizona (15-1, 5-0 Pac-12) on Thursday, Stanford men’s basketball (10-6, 3-3 Pac-12) was searching for another underdog victory after toppling then-No. 5 USC last week. The fairy tale ending never came, however, and the Cardinal fell 85-57 in their first home loss of the season.
Sophomore guard Michael O’Connell opened the game with a mid-range jumper to put Stanford on the board. Arizona responded with its own sophomore guard, Benedict Mathurin, whose jumper tied the game up at 2-2. The Cardinal never led again.
In the ensuing eight minutes, the Wildcats set the tone for the game: utter domination. Mathurin scored all of his 13 points early in the game, including a razzle-dazzle three-pointer off of a between-the-legs pass, to give Arizona an 18-5 advantage. On the defensive end, blue jerseys swarmed Stanford players on all fronts, disrupting its offensive flow and causing 11 first-half turnovers.
“Defensively, they pressured us and forced us into a bunch of turnovers,” said head coach Jerod Haase. “We had no rhythm offensively, and we weren’t getting the shots we wanted to get.”
Coupled with Arizona’s vibrant bench energy and the lack of fans in the arena, Maples Pavilion almost felt like a home game for the Wildcats. Despite this, the Cardinal showed some signs of life, clawing back to sit at a 22-16 deficit with nine minutes to play in the first half. However, in just 70 seconds of game time, Arizona’s fast-paced offense extended the lead to 30-16.
With under two minutes left in the first half, the Wildcats showed no signs of slowing down, again extending their lead — this time to 40-22. However, the heroics of O’Connell and freshman forward Harrison Ingram provided the Cardinal an ounce of hope heading into halftime. O’Connell led the Cardinal in first-half points, rebounds and assists, and Ingram nailed a deep, fading three-pointer right before the buzzer to cut the deficit to 11 points entering the break.
Whatever spark was ignited by O’Connell and Ingram’s efforts was extinguished quickly. The second half was no kinder to the Cardinal. Stanford aimed to mix things up with a zone, but elite passing from Arizona’s offense led to easy buckets inside.
One major beneficiary of the zone was redshirt sophomore Oumar Ballo. With starting center junior Christian Koloko only logging nine minutes due to foul trouble, Ballo came off of the bench and paced the Wildcats in points and blocks. Despite entering the contest averaging only 5.8 points per game, he finished the game with a career-high 21.
For Stanford, this marked the second straight game in which no starters accrued double-digit points. Junior forward Spencer Jones and freshman forward Maxime Raynaud both led the way with nine points apiece. The Cardinal shot just 30% from the field on the game and 23.7% in the second half.
“We need to learn from this, compartmentalize it and move on quickly. What we don’t want to do is have a poor performance today dictate how we play on Saturday,” Haase said.
Looking forward, Stanford is set to face off against Arizona State on Saturday night. Tip-off is scheduled for 8 p.m. at Maples Pavilion.