The #1 Arizona Wildcats (21-0, 8-0) passed another steep test Wednesday night, outlasting the Stanford Cardinal (13-7, 4-4) 60-57 at Maples Pavilion. For the second straight game Arizona saw themselves facing a second half deficit, and as was the case in the win over Utah they were able to rely on stellar second half defense to find a way to win.
On Arizona’s ability to win ugly-
Great teams find a way to win ugly games. On a night where Arizona struggled to find any sort of consistent offensive rhythm, they were able to hold Stanford without a basket over a stretch of nearly nine minutes late in the second half. Obviously having games come down to the wire is not ideal both from a team and fan point of view, but facing adversity and ultimately dealing with it in a variety of ways, as the Cats have done all year, will only serve them better come tournament time.
On Arizona’s offense-
For the second straight game Arizona looked out of sync on the offensive end. Some of the credit can be given to the team length of Stanford, but ball movement as of late hasn’t been what we are accustomed to with this team. Too many times against Stanford the ball was dominated by one player throughout the entire possession.
In particular, freshmen Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Aaron Gordon were simply out of control all night. There were instances early in the season where these two could get away with wild drives against lesser opponents, but in a close game where every possession is vital those bad shots really stand out.
Granted, they are freshmen. The duo has played so superbly all year that this is one of the few times I even feel comfortable knocking them. Fortunately for Arizona they are still able to impact the game and make plays on the defensive end, but going forward they will need to pick their spots to attack a little better.
On Arizona’s free throw shooting-
A topic that has been a main talking point all season almost cost the Cats this game. For much of the season it has seemed like Arizona has shot free throws better in bigger games, but the main reason this game was so close was because of the Cats' inability to convert at the charity stripe. Arizona made 12-21 free at the half, as RHJ missed his first five attempts and Nick Johnson uncharacteristically missed on a few opportunities. The missed chances at the line in the first half allowed both Stanford and their crowd to stay in the game, something the Cardinal capitalized on to open the second half.
It is worth mentioning that Arizona at least did a good job getting to the line, as five of seven players who saw significant minutes had three or more attempts. Given RHJ and Gordon’s aggressive nature, it is critical they be able to convert free chances moving forward, or else teams will likely resort to just fouling them when they have easy looks at the rim.
On Arizona’s “winning time” playmaking-
Again, the ability of Arizona to keep grinding regardless of time and score continues to amaze me. Despite an obvious subpar game, Arizona was able to make big plays down the stretch when they needed them. Nick Johnson continues to enhance his NPOY credentials, and guys who may have struggled all game continue to find ways to contribute. Gordon, Johnson, Hollis-Jefferson, and Brandon Ashley all made key late blocks, and Kaleb Tarczewski gathered a key offensive rebound that set up Johnson’s eventual dagger three.
Defending an undefeated record is no easy task, especially given the intense scrutiny of today’s social media based world, but the mettle and grit the Cats continue to show is something that makes me very proud to watch as a fan.
On adjustments going forward-
There is really no need to panic. Stanford is a very balanced, veteran-laden team who has produced a few quality wins this year, so the fact that they almost stole one does not surprise me. However, Arizona will need to get back to sharing the ball a little better and not settling for the first look, but instead making sure it is a shot they want and can make with regularity.
With an upcoming trip to the Haas Pavilion to meet a desperate Cal team, Arizona will need to try and establish their interior presence early, as Ashley, Zeus and Gordon have been relatively quiet the last two contests.