And 1: Arizona 56, Stanford 43

Kevin Danna brings his insights and observations from Stanford's defeat versus the Arizona Wildcats, 56-43, on Saturday afternoon at Maples Pavilion.

For 30 minutes, this had the makings of a classic knock-‘em-down, drag-‘em-out basketball game that looked like whoever had the ball last was going to lose the game. Great defensive pressure on both sides; nothing easy for either team.

And then Stanford's shooting afternoon went from ugly to Elephant Man, hitting just two of its last 14 field-goal attempts to close out a 56-43 loss to the Arizona Wildcats. After going 5-1 in their first three conference weekends, the Farm Boys have gone 1-4 in their last three to fall into a tie for sixth place in the Pac-12.

A lot of credit does go to the Arizona Wildcats' defense, as Johnny Dawkins was quick to point out in the post-game presser.  Josiah Turner, Kyle Fogg, and Nick Johnson played textbook "defensive stance, in your shorts" defense on the likes of Jarrett Mann, Chasson Randle, and Aaron Bright on the perimeter. Those ‘Cats made it very uncomfortable for the Cardinal guards all afternoon long. As a result, Stanford would go minutes without getting even a good look at the hoop.

But then Stanford would run good offense and get very solid attempts. Those wouldn't go in either. Chasson Randle did a very good job all afternoon long of getting to the hoop and creating enough space to get off a good look at a layup - he just couldn't finish. One such take happened to be Stanford's first missed field goal of the game a little more than two minutes in, and it would become a recurring theme.

There was more than that, though. John Gage had a great look by the Arizona bench in the first half that he just wasn't able to knock down.  Anthony Brown had a good take and laid it up in what looked to be goaltending on Arizona (but they didn't show a replay that I recall, and my vantage point from the rafters probably wasn't ideal for me to throw my zebra suit on). The Cardinal were great on the offensive glass all game long, corralling more than 35 percent of their missed shots. But usually, those put-backs also wouldn't go in.

They also had Arizona in serious foul trouble for a team that only played seven guys. Solomon Hill picked up his fourth foul with 11 and a half minutes left. The next time he came in at 9:32, Stanford immediately attacked him and got an easy bucket. But that was about the last time they were able to go at Hill (credit Miller for using him exceptionally well and subbing him in and out at the right times once he picked up número cuatro). Brendon Lavender, their best three-point shooter, picked up his third with about nine minutes left and his fourth with just under five minutes to play. But by that time, he had done his damage, with his second three being the eventual decider, putting Arizona up 45-37.

Down the stretch, Stanford went a little too one-on-one. With those misses piling up, Stanford's guards felt more and more the need to try to rescue the team from its slump, and that led to even tougher looks. The guards did a very good job of taking care of the ball with only nine team turnovers, but the Cardinal also only had six assists on 16 made field goals. Anytime you're getting dimes on less than half of your makes, something isn't right.

Overall offensively, Stanford just played tight. When that happens, the first thing to go (at least in my case) is your shot, and from my vantage point, that's what appeared to happen (the tightness, not the missing shots, because obviously that happened). They were squeezing the ball a little too hard out there.

On the bright side, Stanford played perhaps their best game defensively of the season. Sure, they held USC to 43 points and more recently kept the Sun Devils to 44, but those offenses are about as effective as the 2006 Stanford Football team's was.

The Farm Boys showed perhaps the most intestinal fortitude they have all season in the defensive paint. The Cardinal were credited for only five blocks as a team, but it sure felt like more than that. Both Joshes were monsters down low, sending a message to whichever Wildcat dared to step to them that they weren't welcome in Maples (though their fans certainly made themselves feel right at home).

Jesse Perry is one of the strongest dudes in the conference, and Huestis absolutely ruined his mood with a stuff near the end of the first half. Dwight Powell sent a shock to Nick Johnson's system. Owens tripled those two sophomores' efforts.

The Cardinal held Arizona to 38 percent shooting from the field, six percentage points below their season average. They held the ‘Cats to 31 percent shooting from downtown, seven percentage points below what they averaged entering Saturday. Arizona might have shot 50 percent from the field in the second half, but it certainly didn't feel like they hit half of their shots. For the second game in a row and third time all season, the Farm Boys didn't allow the opponent to connect on double-digit field goal attempts in both halves. The difference between this game and the previous two? Outside of the fact that they won the previous two and lost on Saturday, Arizona State and UC Davis are both sub-200 RPI teams; Arizona is legit (at least by Pac-12 standards).

The effort was certainly there for the Cardinal. You gotta think that if Stanford hit a third of their field goal attempts, they would have won the game.  Five more makes from the field would have put them at least at 53, and those final couple of possessions wouldn't have been nearly as sloppy for Stanford that led to a couple of easy Wildcat buckets had the Cardinal been at 53 instead of 43. Twenty-one of 63 would have done it. Sixteen of 63 didn't.

Twelve wins is still mathematically possible for Stanford, but it would take a Herculean effort. Outside of USC and Utah, Stanford doesn't have an easy game left on the schedule, and even the Trojans and Utes are on the road. Six of seven will be very tough to do.

From where the Cardinal are now at 6-5, I would be pleased with 10-8 and stoked with 11-7. That means splitting each weekend and beating Cal; very doable. Stanford wouldn't be in at-large consideration with either of those conference records, but it would keep Stanford at sixth at the very worst; fourth and a first-round bye for the Pac-12 tourney at best. That means your worst-case scenario is a date with either USC or Utah in the first round at Staples. Win that game, get a little momentum going, hope to avoid potentially running into Washington until the Pac-12 title game…

Saturday's loss to Arizona probably means Stanford is an NIT team, barring a great finish. But honestly, I would love to go to the NIT - it beats the hell out of the worst-run tournament in college athletics (the CBI; seriously, intramurals are more organized than that tournament) and it's certainly better than no postseason at all, especially when the Cardinal haven't made any sort of postseason the last two years.

Now it's off to Los Angeles, where Stanford hasn't won (excluding tournaments) since 2005. Time to break the Hollywood spell.
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