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Arizona beats Stanford 73-71 to claim first place in Pac-12

The Wildcats led by 12 in the first half and trailed by 11 in the second half, but managed to escape Palo Alto with a win

NCAA Basketball: Arizona at Stanford John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

In a game where both teams looked dead in the water at different points, the Arizona Wildcats hung on to beat the Stanford Cardinal 73-71 on Saturday in Palo Alto to claim sole possession of first place in the Pac-12.

The Wildcats led by as many as 12 points in the first half and trailed by as many as 11 in the second half, but some timely shooting and heady defensive plays by Parker Jackson-Cartwright allowed UA to escape with a hard-fought victory.

Arizona improves to 16-4 overall and 6-1 in league play. Stanford falls to 11-9 and 5-2, respectively.

Allonzo Trier led the Wildcats with 21 points (5-10 FG) and Dusan Ristic added 18 points (9-13 FG) and nine rebounds.

Rawle Alkins had 13 points and Deandre Ayton, who dealt with foul trouble all game, had nine points, eight rebounds, six blocks, and three assists in 28 minutes.

Reid Travis had 20 points (8-14 FG) and 10 rebounds for the Cardinal, Michael Humphrey had 13 and 12, and Dorian Pickens added 15 points.

A 3 by Pickens capped off an 11-0 Stanford run which put the Cardinal up 57-46 with 9:29 to play.

Maples Pavilion was roaring as Arizona was forced to called timeout, but the Wildcats answered with a trio of 3s as part of their own 11-0 run to knot the game at 57 with 6:22 left.

Stanford re-took the lead soon after, but could not create much separation. A pull-up jumper by Kezie Okpala allowed the Cardinal to snatch a 66-63 lead with 1:56 left, but that wouldn’t last.

Here is how Arizona’s comeback shook out:

  • Ayton scored in the paint to cut Stanford’s lead to 66-65, then PJC swiped Pickens near mid-court and went the distance for a layup to give Arizona a 67-66 lead.
  • Pickens scored at the rim, allowing Stanford to jump back ahead with 59 seconds left.
  • Ayton found Alkins underneath from the high post, and he scored over the trees to make it 69-68 Arizona with 38 seconds left.
  • Jackson-Cartwright came up with another big defensive play, knocking the ball away from Oscar Da Silva in the lane to get Arizona the ball back with 19 seconds left.
  • Trier was fouled immediately, and made both free throws to extend Arizona’s lead to 71-68.
  • Pickens drove to draw a fifth and final foul on Ayton with 10 seconds left, and split the pair of free throws to trim UA’s lead to 71-69.
  • Alkins then split a pair of free throws.
  • Arizona fouled Pickens with five seconds left to prevent a game-tying 3, and he sunk both free throws. 72-71, Arizona.
  • Trier is fouled again but made just one of two free throws with four seconds left.
  • Pickens brought the ball up and made his way to the far wing, but his last-second 3 is well-contested, off the mark, and not even released before the buzzer sounded.
  • UofA chants echoed throughout Maples.

Arizona has now won 16 straight against the Cardinal. Sean Miller has still never lost to them.

The Wildcats played perhaps their best basketball all season for the first 12 minutes of the first half, before crashing hard until the final nine minutes of the game.

They were moving the ball inside-out, getting plenty of open shots against the Stanford zone which was doubling everything on the low block.

On defense, Arizona was funneling everything into the paint and contesting, altering, or blocking nearly every shot at the rim.

The Wildcats had eight blocks in the first half, five from Ayton alone. The big man was everywhere on defense, and a few of his blocks turned directly into transition offense for the Wildcats, like this swat that resulted in a 3 for Trier.

That bucket put Arizona up 17-7, and later the Wildcats would lead 29-17 with roughly eight minutes left in the first half. Things were going well.

But then Stanford stopped driving and started feeding Travis. That worked. The big man scored 11 of his 14 first-half points in the final seven minutes of the period.

Ayton emphatically blocked Travis on one possession, but then Travis got the ball on the next possession and blew past Ayton to draw a second foul on the big man with 2:20 left in the period.

“He can’t guard me!” Travis hollered at his teammates.

He was sorta right. And neither could anyone else on the Wildcats.

As Travis surged, Arizona missed 11 of its last 12 shots of the half, allowing Stanford to trim UA’s lead to 31-29 at the break.

Arizona settled for 3s, as 15 of UA’s 31 first-half shots came from behind the arc, and it only made four of them.

The Wildcats had a disastrous final possession of the first half, failing to even get a shot off despite having 19 seconds to play with.

Trier isolated, but seemed to lose track of time before firing a deep 3 that would not have counted anyway.

Then Ayton picked up his third foul early in the second half, and six straight points by Travis allowed Stanford to take a 42-40 lead with 14:27 to play.

Later, with Stanford up by six, Ayton was called for a charge, his fourth foul, with 9:36 left.

Miller was livid, appeared to use some profanity and was assessed a technical foul (all of Ayton’s fouls were pretty borderline to be fair):

Pickens made both free technical throws, then drilled a 3 on the ensuing possession to balloon Stanford’s lead to 11.

Miller called timeout, and the Wildcats re-gained control of the game, and the top spot in the conference standings, from there.

Arizona wound up shooting 44 percent to Stanford’s 41 percent. The Cardinal outrebounded the Wildcats 38-34, including 13 offensive rebounds as they feasted anytime Ayton was not on the floor.

The Bahamian was a team-high +13. Arizona was 8-27 from 3. Stanford was 4-12.

Even with the late fouling by the Cardinal, they still took 23 free throws to Arizona’s 13, showing UA’s reluctance to drive to the hoop against Stanford’s zone.

Dylan Smith hit a couple big shots in the second half, but his five points were all Arizona’s bench would generate.

The Wildcats will have a chance to add to their lead in the conference standings Thursday when they host Colorado at 6:30 p.m. MST.

Follow Ryan Kelapire on Twitter at @RKelapire