In all the articles I have written for TheBootleg I hopefully have come off as a writer who looks at things objectively. In recapping games, I look for what Stanford did right and what Stanford did wrong. I like to see what trends seem to be occurring and what things need to be improved. But after Saturday's game, I walked out of Maples not knowing specifically what went wrong or where this team is going. It also isnt my style to bring refs into the equation, but I think they played a major role in this game. True there were bad calls against both teams, but I felt when the game was on the line, calls were not going Stanfords way. I felt Stanford played well enough to win this game, and I also felt that the better team today did not win. Arizona-Stanford games have become the top rivalry on the West Coast for sure. I thought it was UCLA, but Arizona games are just an unbelievable emotional rollercoaster. This game was very similar to the game last year, a one-point loss courtesy of a Michael Wright jump hook as time expired. I never thought there could be a more heart-wrenching loss than that, but today it was sure beat.
This matchup started extremely well for Stanford once again. This marked the third game in a row in which Stanford exploded out of the gates. It also marked the third game in a row Stanford blew a double-digit lead, only salvaging Thursday nights game on an unbelievable game by Casey Jacobsen. It looked like Stanford was finally going to make a statement to the rest of the conference that they were ready for the stretch run. Just nine minutes into the game it was 29-15; the 6th man was rocking (for once); and the players were excited. The Wildcats looked vulnerable: six freshmen on their roster and no seniors who play significant minutes. Different from Arizona teams of the past, it looked like this one could roll over and be happy with a Bay Area split after its 68-58 defeat of Cal two days ago. This unfortunately was Stanford's largest first half-lead. It was a dominating first half, but even with a good lead, it felt like the Wildcats were about to break out. A real turning point in this game was when Julius Barnes picked up his second foul with three minutes left in the first half. This brought Tony off the bench to guard Jason Gardner, and to put it lightly, it was ugly. Gardner scored on three or four straight possessions, and even though Stanford was able to put together some baskets itself, I felt that Arizona still had the halftime momentum. It felt like they were about to make their move. Nevertheless Stanford entered the locker room with a 43-33 lead.
The second half began as one might have expected. Arizona scored a quick basket and the lead was eight. But for the next two-plus minutes I thought Stanford finally broke through. Two baskets engineered by Julius Barnes increased the Stanford lead to 47-35, and a long three-pointer gave Stanford a 50-35 lead and sent Maples into a frenzy. It was short-lived though, as Luke Walton seemed to slither his way through the key and keyed an 8-0 run for Arizona. The lead was at seven again. The game was still in Stanfords control, but at each television timeout it seemed the lead was shrinking. At 12 minutes it was seven; at eight minutes it was four; then at four minutes it was one. Arizona roared back with superb defense and a little luck, and were back into the game. A Curtis Borchardt basket and two Teyo Johnson free throws made the score 75-70 with 3:49 on the clock. I dont know if people realized this but Stanford scored ZERO points for the rest of regulation. This was in part to the complete breakdown in officiating as well as some bad rebounding. Arizona essentially had the ball from the 3:30 mark all the way down to two minutes. Repeatedly it seemed Rick Anderson, Channing Frye, Luke Walton, etc were all over Curtis on his rebounds. It also seemed like Anderson clearly knocked the ball out after one of the possessions, but what can you do? Arizona also didnt score a basket for the final 3:49, but two Teyo Johnson fouls contributed to the five free throws Arizona made to tie the score at 75. Jacobsen then got called for an offensive foul with 29 seconds left, and Gardner missed a runner at the buzzer. The game was headed to overtime.
The overtime was then completely dominated by Arizona. Stanford shot 1-12 and often looked lost on offense. On the few good looks they had, a few layups were missed. These were opportunities that would have really helped in the closing moments of the game. The game continued to stay close, but Arizona was in control and held on for an 88-82 win.
Many players had great statistical games, as the starters on both teams logged heavy minutes. Arizona essentially was six-deep and the 6th, Will Bynum, only played 12 minutes. Jason Gardner, the leader of the team, had another great game. He had 20 points and only two turnovers, once again showing his incredible quickness and great leadership. The key player in the game for Arizona though had to be Channing Frye. He is now shooting 76% in his last eight games. He had a huge game Saturday going for 22 points on 10-13 shooting. He hit open jumpers repeatedly and grabbed 10 rebounds, six of them being offensive. Then there was Luke Walton; I dont know how he does it but he is extremely effective. There is not a player in the conference who is more improved than Walton this season. He finished with 20 points, as well, but also had seven rebounds and six assists. He along with Gardner has assumed a leadership role on an incredibly young team. Salim Stoudamire and Rick Anderson also went for 11 and 10 points, respectively, but were big time problems with their defensive skill. Anderson has good mobility for a 6-10 guy, and Stoudamire has great defensive instincts - he just locks down on a defender.
Stanford also had some great individual performances. Curtis Borchardt had an amazing game, and definitely showed he is over his strained abdominal muscle (hip pointer) that occurred in Los Angeles. He had 25 points on the day to go with 21 rebounds, ten of them being on the offensive glass. A truly remarkable performance considering the athletic ability of Channing Frye and Arizonas post players. Casey Jacobsen also had a great game, going for 24 points and six assists and four rebounds. He and Borchardt once again kept Stanford going offensively and preserved the lead they had for most of the game. Teyo Johnson in his second start stayed out of foul trouble (relatively speaking) and proved to be a threat. He had 12 points and was six for six from the free throw line. Julius Barnes never got things going as he shot 3-11 from the field and ended up with only seven points. It was another day in which Stanford just couldnt find a legit third scorer, and it proved costly in the end. This has been a problem for most of the year for Stanford, but it has seemed in Maples Pavilion someone always steps up. Not this day.
This has to be one of the toughest games to take as a Stanford fan. Arizona seemed very beatable this year and looked very vulnerable on the road. I really dont know where this team will go now after this tough game. There are usually two ways teams go after losses like this, and they are both drastic. Maryland last year lost a 10-point lead at home to Duke in one of the most unbelievable comebacks in recent memory. This inspired Maryland through the remainder of their season, and their play showed it. Their best basketball of the season came after this game and it vaulted them into the Final Four. It also can be demoralizing to a fragile team like Stanford and could send them in the wrong direction. I am not saying Stanford will either end up in the Final Four or NIT, but I think that now we will see the true mental makeup of the team.
Overall this just is not a nice feeling to have. For the past couple of years all of us have been on the other side of games like this and never really have experienced them like this. I think that this will be a really good experience for all the players on the team. They are too talented and too well coached to have something like this dog them for the rest of the season. The Pac-10 climb is much tougher now, but with the Oregons coming in next weekend, ground can quickly be gained. I hope I was able to look at this game from both angles; if it sounds like I am bitter it is because I am. It was really a great game to watch, but I just wish the outcome would have been different!!!!