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Stanford edged by No. 1 Arizona in heartbreaker

So close, yet so far. The Stanford men’s basketball team battled wire-to-wire with the best team in the country, the No. 1 Arizona Wildcats (21-0, 8-0 Pac-12), on Wednesday night, but fell just short, 60-57. With the win, Arizona extended its school-record winning streak to 21 games.

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Senior forward Dwight Powell (33) was limited to just 23 minutes in Wednesday’s game due to early foul trouble. He still finished with 13 points and 6 rebounds as Stanford fell to Arizona 60-57. (SAM GIRVIN/The Stanford Daily)

“That was a heck of a basketball game by both teams,” said Stanford head coach Johnny Dawkins. “I thought our young men came out and gave a heck of an effort. For 38 minutes, I thought we were right there.”

In perhaps the most electric basketball atmosphere inside of Maples Pavilion in a half-decade, the Cardinal (13-7, 4-4) matched the physicality of the Wildcats for all 40 minutes in front of 7,233 roaring fans—the largest crowd at Maples since March 2010, a span of 63 home games. It was Stanford’s offensive execution that doomed it down the stretch, as the Cardinal scored just one field goal in the final 10 minutes of the game.

“They’re one of the best defenses in our conference and in the nation,” Dawkins said. “I thought our guys did a good job of trying to take it to them, and also in the post, as well as drives, but you have to finish.”

Stanford started quickly, spurred by energy from the Sixth Man Club and strong interior post play by senior center Stefan Nastic, who scored four quick points in the opening minutes of the game to give Stanford an immediate 9-2 advantage. Arizona clawed its way back after holding Stanford scoreless over the next four minutes to gain a 10-9 advantage with 11:59 remaining in the first half.

The Wildcats gained their largest lead of the game, 21-16, on an and-one by center Kaleb Tarczewski with 8:09 left in the half, before the Cardinal came roaring back. The awakening of Stanford’s leading scorer, junior Chasson Randle, gave Stanford the offensive boost it needed towards the end of the half, and his 3-pointer with 54 seconds to play in the frame drew Stanford within one. After another defensive stop, senior Anthony Brown hit a magnificent running bank shot over a pair of defenders to give Stanford the lead and the momentum going into halftime.

The Cardinal came out with guns blazing to start the second half. Arizona junior guard Nick Johnson, the Pac-12 Player of the Year candidate who was repeatedly the thorn in the Cardinal’s side, hit a three on the first possession of the half for the Wildcats. After that, Stanford embarked on an 18-9 run over a six-minute stretch to put the nation’s top team on the ropes. The Cardinal led 49-42 with 13:15 left to play, and the magic in Maples was alive and well.

But from there, Stanford’s offense went ice-cold. After senior forward Josh Huestis hit a jumper to push the Stanford lead back to four with 10:03 remaining, the Cardinal went scoreless until the 1:21 mark. Still, the Cardinal was down just two when senior forward Dwight Powell swooped in from the left baseline for a reverse layup that proved to be the prettiest offensive play of the evening.

Stanford again defended well on the next possession, until a long rebound to Tarczweski provided the dagger for Arizona. The sophomore center kicked it out to Johnson, who nailed a three from the top of the key with 51 seconds remaining to give Arizona a 3-point lead.

“Give the young man credit,” said Dawkins. “As I said earlier, you still have to make the shot, and he stepped up and he did that.”

The Cardinal couldn’t answer on its next possession and was forced to foul Johnson with 28 seconds left. He missed the front end of a one-and-one, but Huestis missed a 3-point attempt for the tie. Stanford fouled again, this time sending freshman Aaron Gordon to the line, and unbelievably, he too missed his first free throw. Arizona elected to foul Stanford rather than allow the Cardinal a 3-point attempt, and Randle calmly sunk both of his free throws to pull the home team back within one.

Johnson was fouled again and this time made both of his attempts with 5.8 seconds remaining. Randle got a decent look at a 3-point attempt as time wound down, but the ball clanked off the rim to preserve the victory for Arizona.

“I thought I got a good look at it, but you know, it was just one of those nights,” Randle said.

In the loss for Stanford, Huestis finished with 13 points and 11 rebounds, while Powell added 13 and 6, respectively. Randle struggled to the tune of 3-for-15 shooting and was just 5-for-8 from the line.

Johnson led all scorers for Arizona with 16 points while fellow backcourt mate T.J. McConnell added 11.

In many ways, the Cardinal played uncharacteristically well, particularly on the defensive end. Arizona was held to just 36 percent shooting, its lowest shooting percentage of the season, and Gordon, a projected lottery pick in the upcoming NBA Draft, was held to just five points on 2-for-10 shooting. Stanford showed toughness on the boards, outrebounding the Wildcats 38-36, just the third time this season that any opponent had outrebounded the No. 1 team in the land.

But as has often been characteristic of the Dawkins era, Stanford did just enough to lose. The scoring drought over the final 10 minutes of the game showed a lack of execution by the players, but it also meant that the coaching staff was unable to find a solution to a problem that lasted for much of a half.

“It’s just a matter of getting our spots on the court quickly and just moving the ball and making sharp cuts,” Randle said.

“We let them move us off our spots where we wanted to go offensively,” Huestis remarked.

This tough loss echoes a troubling trend evident throughout the Cardinal’s season: On off-shooting nights, Dawkins and his staff have rarely found a way to provide their players with a go-to offensive strategy.

Stanford will hope to bounce back quickly in anticipation of Arizona State’s visit on Saturday. Tip-off is set for 1 p.m.

Contact Daniel E. Lupin at delupin ‘at’ stanford.edu.