Timber: Arizona Wildcats rally to take down Stanford
STANFORD, Calif. — No. 1-ranked Arizona (21-0, 8-0 Pac-12 Conference) escaped Stanford (13-7, 4-4) with a 60-57 victory Wednesday night.
While the Wildcats started off slow, digging themselves into an immediate 7-point hole, it didn’t take long for them to snap out of it as, once again, the defense helped charge the comeback.
“Our ability to defend at a very high level, to get defensive stop after defensive stop when [the opposing] team really needed to score — that’s what we’ve done from day one, and that’s really the reason if you ask why we won tonight,” head coach Sean Miller said.
“Good fortune always plays a role in whether you win or lose. There were times where, from an offensive perspective, we weren’t nearly as good as we’ve been,” Miller added. “I credit Stanford. They had a good game plan and played excellent defense.”
Stanford's Anthony Brown (21) fights for the ball against Arizona's Aaron Gordon (11) in the second half at Maples Pavilion in Stanford, Calif., on Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2014. Arizona won, 60-57. (Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group/MCT)
For the first time this year, the opposing team pulled down more rebounds than Arizona. Stanford grabbed two more offensive rebounds than the Wildcats and ultimately out-rebounded them 38-36.
“Stanford did a great job at keeping us off the glass here,” Miller said. “They’re big and physical. We don’t run into a lot of teams that are as big as we are. They did as well as any team we played all year of keeping us off the glass.”
Arizona trailed 31-30 at the midway point, but outscored the Cardinal 30-26 in the second half.
The turning point came late in the second half: With the score tied at 53, the Wildcats’ defense pushed Stanford to take rushed shots and went on a 7-4 run over the final six-and-a-half minutes to close the door on the Cardinal.
Since the beginning of conference play, Arizona’s shooting guard Nick Johnson has set the pace for Wildcat comebacks. Wednesday he came up with five key defensive rebounds, a steal and a block as he led the squad in scoring with 16 points.
“In my opinion, Nick [Johnson] is the best defender in the country,” Arizona point guard T.J. McConnell said. “Nick doesn’t get enough credit for how he defends people. [Stanford’s] Chasson Randle is one of the best scorers in our conference, and I think Nick is by far the best defender in our conference, so it was a good matchup.”
Randle accounted for 12 points, five rebounds and two assists, but because of Johnson, Randle was limited in efficient shooting, making three of his 15 shot attempts from the field.
Johnson didn’t just defend and score, either. The junior also contributed on the night with four assists.
The Wildcats continued to struggle from the free-throw line. Arizona shot 62.1 percent (18-29) from the stripe.
In their first 20 games this season, the Wildcats shot with 66.5 percent accuracy from the free-throw line.
“Coming into this game, we knew it was going to be tough,” Johnson said. “I knew they had a very good offense. We know by now that we are going to get everyone’s best shot. That’s what happened tonight.”
—Follow Evan Rosenfeld @EvanRosenfeld17