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Card can’t take the heat, falls to Arizona

For just over 35 minutes, Stanford was the best men’s basketball team in the Pac-12. But No.7 Arizona put the Cardinal in its place by closing out a 73-66 battle at a packed McKale Memorial Center—one of the toughest arenas to visit in college basketball—on Wednesday night.

(ZETONG LI/STANFORD DAILY)

Sophomore Aaron Bright’s hot night shooting kept an upset within reach for the Card, but wasn’t enough as it fell short to Arizona. (ZETONG LI/STANFORD DAILY)

Stanford led for the entire first half, and had the lead as late as the 4:44 mark in a back-and-forth second half. Arizona came out flat and the Card capitalized early on the Wildcats complacency. In the end, though, Arizona’s senior guard Mark Lyons and senior forward Solomon Hill were just too good.

Lyons, who at times seemed like Arizona’s only viable offensive option, finished with a season high 25 points while going 3-for-6 from the three point line to secure the Wildcats lead in the end. Hill finished with 23 points, while no other Wildcat recorded more than eight points.

“Their seniors really stepped up,” said Stanford head coach Johnny Dawkins. “Lyons and Hill made a big difference in the end there.”

Stanford did all it could to win, and after absorbing blow after blow from the Wildcats at its own stadium, the Cardinal looked poised to pull off its biggest upset in the Johnny Dawkins era.

Led by junior forward Dwight Powell’s 24 points and 10 rebounds, four Stanford players finished in double digits scoring. Powell and junior forward Josh Huestis (10 points, 10 rebounds) both finished with double-doubles. Powell recorded 18 of his points in the second half alone, keeping a win within Stanford’s grasp late in the game.

“Even though tonight was a loss, we came out and showed we can hang with anyone in the country,” Huestis said. “We let things down in the last couple of minutes and that’s where we lost it.”

Sophomore point guard Aaron Bright, who, for much of the game seemed to be the only response to Lyons, had one of his most efficient shooting nights to date, scoring 16 points on 6-11 from the floor and 4-7 from downtown. Hitting a pair of threes to start the game, Bright helped Stanford go on a 10-0 run early on.

Stanford knew that its only chance of scoring against a tight wildcat defense was to hit early and often from outside. Unfortunately, the Card struggled for the rest of the first half finishing 8-27.

With three and a half minutes left in the game, Lyons slipped behind a giddy Stanford defense for a layup to put Arizona up 58-54. The basket marked a 9-0 Wildcat run, and the crowd was fully behind the Pac-12’s first place team as Arizona stormed down both ends of the court determined to avoid an upset.

On the next possession, Bright knocked down a three from the corner, and Stanford was once again within a point. With a silenced arena, the upset seemed as likely as ever.

Then sophomore guard Chasson Randle was called for an offensive foul, Hill made a jumper to put Arizona up 6, and the Cardinal never closed that final gap, losing its seventh straight game to the Wildcats.

“I think we played well offensively tonight, but the lack of defense was what killed us. It doesn’t matter how well you play on offense if you have defensive lapses against a high-scoring team,” Powell said. “In the beginning of the game, we were getting stops. We were executing on offense and we were on point on defense. In the second half, we didn’t make out as well, and whenever you have defensive lapses like that things go south.”

The Card now looks to redeem itself at Arizona State 4 p.m. Saturday. The Sun Devils are currently ranked third in the Pac-12, while Stanford sits at seventh. A win over Arizona State could help the Card relocate its path to the NCAA tournament.