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Arizona’s defense, foul shooting keys win at Stanford

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arizona-stanford-basketball-final-score-recap-wildcats-cardinal-highlights-reaction-takeaways Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

The Arizona Wildcats committed more fouls on Saturday night than in any other game this season. Two of their most important players, freshmen Nico Mannion and Zeke Nnaji, spent large amounts of time on the bench in the second half because of foul trouble.

And they shot below 40 percent for the fourth time in the last six games, putting forth another abysmal performance from beyond the arc, while turning it over 16 times.

And none of that mattered. Not with how Arizona played on defense and made the most of the fouls it drew against the Stanford Cardinal.

The Wildcats led wire to wire in a 69-60 victory at Stanford, notching their second consecutive conference road sweep after an 0-3 start away from home in league play. The victory keeps Arizona (18-7, 8-4) in a loss-column tie for first with Colorado (9-4), Oregon (8-4) and ASU (7-4).

Nnaji had 21 points and 11 rebounds, Josh Green had 15 points and Dylan Smith added 11 as the Wildcats beat Stanford for a 20th consecutive time despite shooting only 37 percent and missing 18 of 21 3-pointers.

They made up for it by hitting 26 of 31 foul shots, including the first 18, and held a 39-25 rebounding edge with 13 offensive boards that led to 10 second-chance points. Stanford (16-9, 5-7) shot 41.3 percent but was 3 of 17 from 3.

Arizona led 30-23 at halftime but the first three minutes of the second half was a disaster. Nnaji, who had 14 points and eight rebounds (with zero fouls) in the opening half, was called for three fouls in the first 114 seconds, sending him to the bench.

Less than 30 seconds later, Mannion picked up his third foul on a charge.

The Wildcats were called for five fouls—three offensive—in the first 3:25 while Stanford didn’t get its first foul until the 15:35 mark, but it was a notables one, as Mannion drew it on a missed 3 and made all three free throws.

Arizona weathered that early foul barrage and built a 44-35 lead on a 3-pointer by Smith, snapping a run of 15 missed 3s by the Wildcats, with 12:49 to go, but a minute later Mannion got his fourth foul—and third charge—and had to sit.

But unlike the collapse at ASU last month, Mannion’s prolonged absence didn’t have much of an impact. That’s because Arizona kept getting to the line and took care of the ball, turning it over just once over the next eight minutes while scoring immediately after two of Stanford’s three giveaways during that span.

Stanford got as close as 52-48 with with 6:56 left but then Arizona scored nine of the next 11 points. Josh Green’s steal and dunk with 6:01 left put the Wildcats up 56-48, then a Smith triple and a Stone Gettings layup gave them their biggest lead at 61-50 with 4:46 to go.

The Wildcats completely neutralized Stanford point guard Tyrell Terry, who had only 5 points with one assist, while Oscar da Silva had 15 points (after sitting out Thursday’s loss to ASU following a nasty fall the previous weekend at Colorado) but he only just 7 shots and had early foul trouble.

The only Cardinal that Arizona couldn’t handle was sophomore guard Bryce Wills, who came in averaging 6.4 points per game but finished with a career-high 25 on 10-of-13 shooting. He had 15 of Stanford’s first 21 points, almost all of that coming at the rim or the foul line.

Arizona held Stanford to only one field goal over the final 10:42 of the first half, enabling it to lead by seven at the break. The Wildcats shot just 27.3 percent and missed 12 straight 3-pointers after Green hit one in the first two minutes, but they made up for it by hitting all 11 free throws and dominating on the boards.

Arizona returns home to face the Oregon State Beavers on Thursday night at McKale Center. The Wildcats lost 82-65 to the Beavers (15-10, 5-8) in Corvallis on Jan. 12.