Fresh off of a fairytale comeback victory, Stanford men’s basketball (16-16, 8-12 Pac-12) did everything it could on Thursday afternoon to continue their postseason run. Facing the Pac-12 Tournament’s top seed, No. 2 Arizona (29-3, 18-2 Pac-12), the Cardinal kept things close, exchanging the lead 22 times with the Wildcats before ultimately losing 84-80 in Las Vegas.
Just like he did the last time these two teams matched up, sophomore guard Michael O’Connell began the game firing on all cylinders. O’Connell hit his first two shots of the game, both three-pointers, to keep Stanford’s offense afloat, which started off stagnant and committed two costly turnovers in the opening minutes.
For the first 10 minutes of the game, sloppy play plagued both teams but it consistently felt like Arizona had control of the game. Stanford had no answer for Arizona center Christian Koloko, the Pac-12’s Defensive Player of the Year and Most Improved Player, who had eight early points thanks to easy looks inside.
However, the Cardinal’s efficient outside shooting kept them within arms reach, as they shot 6-for-8 from behind the arc in the first half. Freshman forward Harrison Ingram hit a tough shot with the shot clock winding down, the team’s final 3-pointer of the half, to give Stanford their largest lead of the game, 37-32, with two minutes remaining in the half.
An untimely three straight misses and pair of missed free throws for the Cardinal, coupled with an 8-0 run from Arizona, gave the Wildcats a 40-37 advantage entering the break.
At halftime, junior guard Spencer Jones paced the team with 13 points on 6-of-8 shooting and O’Connell followed with eight points of his own. The rest of the team accounted for the remaining 16 points but shot just 5-of-16 from the field.
In the second half, First Team All-Pac-12 Selection Azuolas Tubelis scored a wide-open layup for Arizona to get things started. In response, Jones picked things up right where he left off, hitting back-to-back threes, the second of which was a heavily contested pull up jumper in transition that followed an impressive block on the defensive end.
O’Connell continued the Cardinal’s impressive shooting performance, following Jones’ shot with a three of his own to make it a 9-0 Stanford run. With that, Stanford led 46-42 behind a ridiculous 9-of-11 clip from deep.
From there, the back-and-forth affair continued. The two teams exchanged eight straight baskets without a consecutive score from one side. This sequence was eventually broken by Pac-12 Player of the Year Benedict Mathurin, who benefited from a lack of transition from the Cardinal defense as he got an easy transition layup to regain the lead for the Wildcats, 53-52.
In response, Jones maintained his hot hand and hit three straight jump shots to keep things competitive. Mathurin, sixth-year Justin Kier and Koloko all contributed scores for Arizona, but neither team was able to pull away. For over eight minutes of game time, the largest lead each team held was two points.
A 3-pointer from Kerr Kriisa and a pair of free throws from Koloko provided Arizona with a five-point cushion, but Jones’ 28th point of the day — making it a career-high outing for the junior — cut the Wildcat lead to just three.
Following a layup from Arizona guard Dalen Terry, Stanford’s freshman stars came alive. A layup from freshman guard Isa Silva and back-to-back scores from Ingram provided the Cardinal with a 6-0 run as they claimed a one-point lead with under four minutes to play.
But from there, Mathurin and Koloko took over. The pair didn’t miss a shot as they scored eight of Arizona’s final 12 points. An emphatic dunk from Koloko gave the Wildcats a five-point lead with 27 seconds to play, effectively putting the game away.
Ingram buried a tough 3-pointer to cut Cardinal deficit to just two, but it was too little, too late. Stanford’s upset bid fell short, as Arizona went on to win 84-80.
Losing to the Pac-12 Regular Season champions certainly wasn’t for a lack of heart. The Cardinal shot an astounding 54.2% from the field and 55% from behind the arc, but the margin for error was slim against a team with national title aspirations. Jones’ career-high 28 points led the team, and Ingram contributed 16 points as well.
With this game behind them, the Cardinal are eliminated from the Pac-12 Tournament. As for the rest of their season — that remains up in the air. Stanford is almost certainly out of contention for the NCAA tournament, but whether or not their resume lands them a spot in the NIT seems to be the question. NIT seeding is announced on Sunday.
If it is indeed their final game of the season, time will tell who ends up where — players and coaches included. While some players with an extra year of eligibility will have to make a decision of whether or not to stay, higher-ups in the Stanford Athletic Department may have decisions to make about the team’s coaching staff. Following a late-season slide that included five straight losses to close Pac-12 play, there was speculation head coach Jerod Haase was on the hot seat. However, following the game, Athletic director Bernard Muir affirmed that Haase would be returning.
“Coach Haase and I agree that the on-court results of our men’s basketball program are not what we want them to be,” Muir said in a statement. “Having said that, I believe that the young nucleus of talent on our team and promising recruiting will propel us to take the next steps we all desire while our program continues to operate with great integrity and achieve the highest levels of academic excellence. I look forward to my continued partnership with Coach Haase.”
Although the Cardinal have yet to qualify for the NCAA Tournament under Haase’s tenure, the sixth-year coach has done a tremendous job bringing in highly-touted recruits, through the likes of former five-stars Ziaire Williams ‘24, now with the Memphis Grizzlies, and Ingram.
As for Arizona, they advance to the Pac-12 Tournament semifinals where they will face the winner of Colorado (20-10, 12-8 Pac-12) versus Oregon (19-13, 11-9 Pac-12) on Friday night.