Stanford left the McKale Center Thursday night still searching for their first win as the visiting team this season, falling short of Arizona by a score of 90-81 in an overtime affair. While Stanford's second half rally was admirable, and true freshman Mitch Johnson (six points, five assists, five rebounds) and Lawrence Hill (12 points, seven rebounds) put forward promising performances in the most hostile environment they have played to date as collegians, the loss to the Wildcats shows that the Cardinal still have room for improvement.
Stanford trailed 46-35 at halftime but raced back and managed to take the lead with 9:35 remaining in the second half. The Cardinal and Wildcats then battled to the end of regulation, dead locked in a 73-73 tie after 40 minutes. Hill's jump shot with 1:06 left gave Stanford a two-point advantage, but Marcus Williams responded with a lay-up with exactly :35 showing on the clock. Stanford had the last shot in the hands of seniors Chris Hernandez (12 points, five assists) and Matt Haryasz (25 points, seven rebounds, three blocks), but Hassan Adams forced a controversial held ball as time expired. Stanford led briefly in overtime but quickly lost contact with Arizona, who exploded for 17 points over those five minutes.
"We were never out of the game," explains Stanford head coach Trent Johnson. "In the first half, they had an 11-point lead because we missed a lot of easy opportunities that didn't go down. In the second half, we got in a better rhythm. It's disappointing. The kids deserve better. We deserve better."
Both teams had to play after making roster adjustments. Fred Washington has long since been lost for the season, but the Cardinal also had to cope with the absence of the injured Peter Prowitt (lower back), who did not travel to Tucson. Meanwhile, the Wildcats dismissed Chris Rodgers from the team on Wednesday and had to fill a void left by Jawann McClellan, who was out with a wrist injury.
After Dan Grunfeld (12 points, six rebounds) found Taj Finger (seven points, three rebounds) open down low for a basket-and-one, Stanford found itself ahead 8-3 before 2:30 had elapsed. Arizona then proceeded to go on a 13-0 run, shutting out Stanford for the next three minutes and benefiting from a technical foul call against the Stanford bench. Johnson expressed strong dissatisfaction with the call after the game. "I was just trying to call time out," he maintains.
Haryasz' free throws sandwiched between a Tim Morris (six points, five rebounds) jumper and a Grunfeld three-pointer brought Stanford back within one at 16-15 before Arizona edged clear once again. Ivan Radenovic answered with a three-pointer to push the lead back to four. Then, Stanford began to cause its own problems, missing shots at point-blank in the paint. Marcus Williams made them pay with back-to-back threes in transition, making the score 25-15 with 11:31 left in the first half.
Stanford then called a timeout, which managed to stop the bleeding, but was unable to respond with a run of their own in the first half. The game was delayed momentarily halfway through the first period after Finger took a Marcus Williams elbow to the mouth, sending the Stanford sophomore bloodied to the bench. However, he would return before intermission with the addition of a protective mask.
Arizona led 46-35 at halftime, aided by 7-of-11 three-point shooting. Stanford had done itself no favors by turning the ball over 10 times while only producing seven assists. Meanwhile, after just 20 minutes, Mustafa Shakur had eight assists of his own to go along with the other four assists made by his teammates. In the final two minutes of the opening half, Arizona routinely beat Stanford down court, leading to additional transition points.
Perimeter defense has been a festering sore for Stanford this year, and that played out in spades in the first half, but the Cardinal appeared to commit itself to increasing defensive intensity after the break. The Wildcats were limited to just six points in the first four minutes. However, Stanford did not make a major dent into the Arizona advantage until the 15:10 mark when Hernandez fed Haryasz for a dunk. Then, the outside game got going for Stanford. On the following Cardinal possession, Mitch Johnson found Hernandez, who was playing the two guard at the moment, along the left baseline for a three-pointer.
Not to be outdone, Johnson connected from long distance twice in the next two minutes. Haryasz joined the jump shot onslaught with a two-point basket; then Hill got involved with back-to-back jumpers of his own. The frosh Arizona native's second deuce gave Stanford a 63-62 lead at 9:34, their first since three minutes into the game.
Hernandez attributes the offensive surge partially to the crackdown on defense: "It became easier to set up the offensive off [Arizona] misses."
Despite improved defensive play, Stanford failed to effectively rebound the ball after they forced misses, and Arizona took advantage. Even though Stanford started the half on a 28-16 run, one possession within that rally signaled danger for the Cardinal. After Johnson's second three-pointer, Radenovic scored in the paint after Shakur and Adams had failed to connect themselves.
With 19 offensive rebounds on the game (33 total), the Wildcats were able to overcome a Stanford defense that had otherwise become stingy in the second half. Meanwhile, the game continued to sway back and forth. Radenovic was good on both foul shots in a one-and-one situation with 3:30 on the clock, giving Arizona a two-point lead at 69-67.
Stanford came back with four answered points. Morris drove and banked the ball off the class to tie the game once again. Two possessions later, Haryasz was fouled by Kirk Walters and converted on both attempts at the free throw line with only 2:03 on the clock. Stanford, coming off a solid foul shooting performance against California, continued their success at the stripe, finishing 14-of-16 on three throws.
Radenovic and Hill traded baskets before Adams found Williams for a lay-up to tie the game at 73 with :35 remaining in the second half. In an attempt to guarantee the last shot, Hernandez, who was covered by Shakur, controlled the ball with his eye on the clock. He passed the ball to Haryasz with time about to expire. Adams came over to double-team Haryasz and was able to dispute possession. Although the arrow was in favor of Stanford, time had ran out. Haryasz had been knocked to the ground but no foul was called. While admitting that contact can go unchecked at the end of a game, Haryasz quips, "I don't get knocked down by myself."
Overtime began in positive fashion for the visitors as Stanford followed a basket by Williams with a field goal by Hill and a pair of free throws from Grunfeld. But then things began to unravel for the Cardinal. Walters added two free threes of his own to tie the game at 79. On the following possession, Adams knocked the ball out of Haryasz' hands and out of bounds. The referees ruled in favor of the Wildcats, despite Haryasz' demonstrative disagreement. A defensive stop would have rendered the call harmless but Stanford once again gave up second chance points. Radenovic missed a jump shot, but Williams hauled in the rebound, went up, made the basket, and was fouled by Hill in the process. His foul shot was good and Stanford found itself down by three points with 2:26 remaining.
Stanford had the chance to take the lead once again after Haryasz made two free throws and Hernandez came up with a steal. But controversy arose once again on Stanford's next trip down court as Haryasz and Walters wound up in a scramble for the ball. It then bounced towards Radenovic, who knocked it out of bounds. The referees ruled once again in favor of Arizona, to the disappointment of Cardinamaniacs™ the world over. The Wildcats made another basket and one on the ensuing possession as Shakur went up against Haryasz and drew contact. Stanford was now down by two possessions, trailing 83-79 with only 1:14 to go.
Hernandez then missed a three-point attempt which could have cut the deficit to one. The Wildcats closed out the game with four more free throws and an exclamation-point dunk by Adams off a steal with :20 left. The final score was 90-81, as Arizona left Stanford in the desert dust in overtime.
The Cardinal were obviously disappointed with the calls in the last minute of regulation and over the course of overtime, but Chris Hernandez tactfully explains that such is life for visitors on the road: "In high school, my coach would tell us, 'If you want to win by one on the road, you have to be able to win by 10.'"
Despite controversial officiating decisions for both teams, Stanford did not show that it was able to beat the Wildcats on their home court "by 10." The improved shooting from the first to the second half (44.8% in the first half from the field to 63.6% in the second) and increased defensive intensity were not enough to overcome 22 turnovers and an allowed 19 Arizona offensive rebounds.
Finding a moral victory within such a tough loss isn't easy, but Stanford fans can be happy with the improved (but still imperfect) play away from Maples Pavilion. The character of the team will be tested on Saturday as they will have to find a way to shake off the loss to the Wildcats before they square off in Tempe.
"We need to forget this loss and focus on getting a win up at Arizona State. I am proud of our overall effort tonight," Haryasz declares.
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