Comeback Cats fall short

It finally came back to hurt them. After living dangerously all season, the Wildcats were unable to pull out a second half comeback. Arizona erased a 14-point second half deficit, but could not hold on and fell to Stanford 82-77.

Arizona fell behind early and repeatedly battled back. The Cats tied the game with a Jason Gardner bucket that also drew a foul, but the Cats could not come all the way back for the second time. Gardner had a chance to take the lead, but missed the free throw. Nick Robinson came down and made an easy lay-in to re-take the lead. Matt Lottich then nailed a three in the corner to seal the Cardinal upset.

UA failed to get their second straight comeback win, after an amazing second half run against Kansas on Saturday. The Cats have comeback all season and that seemed to play on their minds.

"I think that's what a lot of guys think," Gardner said of their ability to comeback in the second half. "We did come back. We led by three but I had a turnover. We had some turnovers. They made their shots and we didn't."

Arizona got within three when Rick Anderson followed a miss with a put-back. Then the Cats put Lottich on the line and the 70% free throw shooter missed the front end of the one-and-one and they had yet another opportunity. The Cats came down but missed the three that would have tied it again. A pair of Julius Barnes free throws sealed the win.

Sloppy play proved to be the Wildcats undoing. The Cats struggled from the free throw line and committed far too many turnovers. UA hit their first seven free throws, but made just 7-of-19 after that. They committed 19 turnovers, but many came at critical times.

The Cats got killed on the offensive boards and Stanford made them pay with second and third chances. Arizona was outrebounded for the first time in 10 games,  43-39, including 16 on the offensive glass. Cardinal big men Rob Little and Nick Robinson were monsters inside, grabbing nine rebounds apiece. Robinson had five offensive boards, while Little pulled down six.

"We can't let the opposing four and five men get 11 offensive rebounds," Lute Olson said.

Gardner and Luke Walton had big games for the Wildcats. The two seniors scored 22 and 20 respectively. Walton led the Cats with nine rebounds, while Gardner dished out six assists.

After the best game of his career, Salim Stoudamire struggled. Saddled with foul trouble throughout, the sophomore shooter never found his rhythm. Stoudamire hit just one three-pointer and was limited to just 17 minutes.

Matt Lottich paced the Cardinal from the outside. He scored 23 points, making 5-8 from behind the arc. Three other Stanford players finished in double figures, including Julius Barnes, who scored 14, despite missing 17 shots.

Each team had trouble getting it going early. In addition to good defensive play by both ball clubs, early fouls limited key players on each side. Before the first television timeout could be taken, both Josh Childress and Salim Stoudamire were relegated to the bench with a pair of fouls a piece.

Arizona went to the press in an attempt to speed things up and it was the slower paced Cardinal who benefited. On two straight possessions the Cardinal broke the press and scored on easy lay-ins. A quick 6-0 run gave Standford a 12-5 lead.

Stanford extended their lead to 17-9 before Arizona rattled off eight straight to tie the game at 17 on a Walton three. Stanford stormed right back with six straight of their own.

The Cardinal led by as many as nine before the Wildcats slowly clawed back. The Cats outscored Stanford 10-4 over the final few minutes of the half and were within 3, 41-38, at the intermission. For the second game in a row Gardner was fouled in the final seconds of the half. He made 1-of-2.

Isaiah Fox opened the second half with a bucket in the opening seconds, but it was Stanford who dominated the early going. After Fox's hook made it 41-40, Stanford outscored Arizona 18-5 to take their biggest lead of the game at 14, 59-45.

The Cats didn't stay in the hole for long. A number of crowd-pleasing plays allowed Arizona to erase the lead in a matter of moments. A five-point play following an intentional foul sparked the Cats and the crowd. The Cats added a monster inbounds alley-oop pass to Hassan Adams and three straight three-pointers to gain a 63-62 lead.

The longball and Little brought the Cardinal right back. A Barnes three tied the game at 65 and moments later Lottich buried another three to put Stanford back in the lead. After that it was the Cardinal big man's chance to shine. Little scored seven of the next nine Stanford points and with 3:00 to play the Cardinal held a 75-71 lead.

The Cats scored four straight to tie it at 75, but would get just one more bucket down the stretch and the Cardinal made their shots to hold on the win.

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