Welcome to the real world, Arizona.
After spending the first month of the season in the friendly—albeit empty—confines of the McKale Center, the Arizona Wildcats played their first road game on Saturday night and for much of it looked like a team that had yet to venture outside their own gym.
The UA trailed for all but 83 seconds in losing 78-75 to the Stanford Cardinal in Santa Cruz, Calif. in the Pac-12 opener for both teams. The loss ended Arizona’s 20-game win streak over Stanford that had dated back to the 2008-09 season.
In a game played at Kaiser Permanente Arena, home of the G League’s Santa Cruz Warriors, Arizona (5-1) shot 69.2 percent from the field in the second half but made only one basket in the final 3:15. That was a 3-pointer by Jemarl Baker Jr., who hit eight triples and had 29 points, which got the Wildcats within 76-75 with 1:38 to go.
Arizona had two chances to win in the final minute but James Akinjo missed a layup and then, after the UA got the ball back out of bounds, was called for a charge with 6.5 seconds remaining. Akinjo also missed two free throws with 2.4 seconds remaining and the Wildcats down three.
Akinjo was 2 for 9 from the line a week after going 14 for 14 on free throws against UTEP. He finished with 7 points and 9 assists but also 6 turnovers.
Arizona trailed 30-23 at the half due to 28.8 percent shooting but made its first four shots and seven of eight coming out of the locker room. A 3-point play by Azuolas Tubelis, off a feed from Akinjo, pulled the Wildcats within 41-40 with 13:51 left.
Stanford wouldn’t yield the advantage, though, building the lead back to 51-44 on a Daejon Davis layup with 11:27 to go.
A Baker 3-pointer with 10:28 made it 53-49, and he hit three free throws with 8:23 left to get the UA within 56-53. But each time Arizona got close the Cardinal would answer, with Noah Taitz hitting a corner 3 on the other end and then the Wildcats turning it over 12 seconds later, with Stanford converting that into a backdoor layup by Bryce Wills to make it 61-53 with 7:45 remaining.
Baker’s fifth three-pointer, followed by a steal and layup by Ira Lee, got Arizona within 68-66 with 4:44 left. His sixth gave Arizona it’s first lead of the game at 69-68 with 3:33 to go, and his seventh put the Wildcats up 72-70 with 3:16 to go.
But Stanford got consecutive threes from Spencer Jones on the other end, with a Bennedict Mathurin turnover wedged in between, to go up 76-72 with 2:03 left. Baker’s eighth three made it a 1-point game but Arizona couldn’t retake the lead.
Besides Baker, who was 9 of 17 from the field and 8 of 13 from outside, Arizona’s only other player in double figures was Tubelis, who had 10 points and 6 rebounds off the bench.
Stanford (4-2) scored 16 of its first 17 points in the paint, leading by as many as 10 midway through the first half as the Wildcats started 5 of 20 from the field. Yet they only trailed 22-21 with 4:22 left after Akinjo made 1 of 2 free throws.
What followed was an abysmal final segment of the half, with Arizona going scoreless for 3:35 and not making a field goal over the final 4:52 before halftime.
The UA was outscored 42-26 in the paint, turned it over 17 times and managed only six fast-break points. The Wildcats shot 48.1 percent overall and 47.8 percent from 3 but were 12 of 23 from the line.
Stanford shot 52.7 percent and were 7 of 13 from 3, causing Arizona coach Sean Miller to turn to a zone defense for a good part of the second half.
Arizona returns to McKale on Monday afternoon to host San Diego, a game that was just added on Thursday. The Wildcats will play on consecutive days, hosting Montana on Tuesday, to wrap up nonconference play before the holiday break.