By Quinn Barry
A gritty road performance from senior forward Reid Travis was not enough to lift Stanford men’s basketball (16-14, 10-7 Pac-12) past No. 19 Arizona (23-7, 13-4) in Tucson. With the 75-67 loss, the Cardinal fall into a three-way tie for third place with UCLA and Utah.
The top-four seeds are given a first-round bye in the Pac-12 Tournament.
The return of Arizona head coach Sean Miller and guard Allonzo Trier seemed to galvanize the crowd and subsequently the team. The crowd was raucous at the mere sight of Miller or Trier.
7-foot forward Dušan Ristic was unstoppable for Arizona, splashing contested twenty feet jumpers and shooting 10-15 overall from the field with 21 points.
The Ristic-DeAndre-Ayton combination posed particular problems for a Stanford team that usually wins the battle for the boards. Arizona out-rebounded the Cardinal 38-29, and Ayton, with five offensive boards (10 total), continually punished Stanford when double-teams elsewhere would give Ristic favorable matchups in the paint.
Travis was a nightmare for Ayton once again as he put Ayton in foul trouble and scored a game-high 23 points.
The Wildcats defense was a problem for the Cardinal. Stanford shot 40.7 percent from the field and 35.3 percent in the second half.
Stanford was able to keep the game close for the majority of the game due to causing 15 Arizona turnovers and generating 18 points off those turnovers. Freshman guard Daejon Davis had three steals and four other Cardinal had one each.
The Cardinal fought hard throughout the contest. Down nine at half, Stanford’s inside game, led by Travis, who grinded for 23 points and hauled in 10 rebounds on 8-18 shooting, cut Arizona’s lead to five with just three and a half minutes left in the ballgame.
The Wildcats and Cardinal traded baskets for the next two and a half minutes. Stanford had ample opportunities to get within a bucket but fell just short. When Travis tried to play isolation basketball on a critical late possession, star Arizona freshman forward Ayton locked down on defense and swatted the ball to a teammate. The following offensive play, freshman KZ Okpala found space and a good look inside but traveled.
This game felt just out of the grasp of Stanford and could have gone their way had they shot better than 5-14 from behind the arc. Still, Stanford head coach Jerod Haase can take solace in the strong fourth-quarter defense of Davis and Travis’ ability to step and fight a top-tier NCAA team in prime time.
On one particularly inspiring play with five minutes remaining in the second half, Davis poked away a steal, then ran the floor and slammed home a dunk to reduce the deficit to five. With 1:04 remaining, he ran around an Okpala pick to find space for a second slam.
Moreover, the Cardinal can learn that their best chance to compete with the cream of the crop in the Pac-12 is to pound the ball inside. Stanford knocked down 14-of-18 from the line, as Travis, Davis and Okpala forced the rock into the paint to create space and generate solid looks.
The Cardinal will now travel to Temple, Arizona to face the Arizona State Sun Devils this Saturday, March 3. Arizona State, who has been ranked for much of this season, gives Stanford a chance for one more quality win before the Pac-12 Tournament next week and would put the Cardinal in excellent position for that coveted top-four seed.
Tip-off is at 11:30 a.m., and the game will be broadcast on the Pac-12 Networks.
Contact Quinn Barry at qmbarry ‘at’ stanford.edu.