Arizona outlasts Stanford for 84-80 win, advances to semis of Pac-12 Tournament
If you come at the crown, you best not miss. Against the top-seeded Arizona Wildcats, Stanford missed just once.
The Cardinal seemingly hit everything they threw up Thursday in the opening game of the quarterfinal round at the Pac-12 Tournament in Vegas. It shot 54% and matched UA shot-for-shot all game long. The patented run that Arizona punched every opponent with this season late in games never materialized; every time the Wildcats got some juice and started to heat up a very pro-Cat crowd at the T-Mobile Arena, Stanford had a response.
Then, with under a minute to play and Arizona mismatched on defense, Stanford’s James Keefe caught an entry pass in the lane with Arizona’s Justin Kier guarding him. The 6-foot-9 forward who was the hero on Wednesday had a five-inch height advantage and about a 40-pound size advantage on Kier, but the Arizona guard held his ground. Keefe looked to turn over his right shoulder, spun back the opposite direction and let it go.
His shot rolled off the front of the rim, collected by UA’s Christian Koloko. With 50 seconds to play, a bucket would cut the Arizona lead from three to one. At the other end, Kier brought Koloko over to set a screen at the top of the key, but the 7-foot-1 center, after not really doing so at all to that point, slipped and dove down to the basket. His man, Keefe, collided with Kier’s man, Brandon Angel, as the two were looking to switch the ball screen. Kier hit Koloko over the top and the big man slammed it home with authority.
Five-point Arizona lead, 82-77. Less than 30 seconds to play. Breathing room.
Harrison Ingram, Stanford’s fabulous freshman, hit a remarkable and heavily-contested corner three on the Cardinal’s next possession, but the two-score difference was too much and the time too little. Arizona (29-3) got free throws from Pelle Larsson with eight seconds to play that gave it the 84-80 win. The Cats will move on to the semifinal round to face the winner of Oregon and Colorado.
Koloko finished with a career-high 24 points and nine boards. He was 10-for-14 from the field and 4-for-4 at the foul line. Early on, Arizona had its high-low game working between Koloko and Azuolas Tubelis. Stanford’s gameplan was to switch 1 through 5 and though it played initial ball screens well, Arizona’s bigs worked the secondary action to perfection time and again, with Tubelis dropping to the foul line and then lobbing it down to Koloko under the basket.
When the screen and roll game opened up more after halftime, Koloko’s teammates found him with some pretty interior passing. With virtually the game on the line, Koloko played the Stanford coverage perfectly, slipping and scoring—a play Arizona has used every time out to get their big man action at the rim. Nothing flashy, just reading the defense and executing.
“I was just playing in the flow of the game,” Koloko said after.
Execution was at a high level all throughout the game, and on both ends of the court. This was one of the best games you’ll see all day.
Stanford hit 54% at the other end of the floor. Spencer Jones, one day after scoring a career-high 26 points to help lift the Cardinal past Arizona State, set another career-high with 28 points. He was 12-for-18 from the field and 4-for-7 from beyond the arc.
Arizona tried guarding him with the Pac-12’s Player of the Year, Bennedict Mathurin, and with All-Defensive Team honoree Dalen Terry. It got into him and forced tough, contested looks all game. Jones just rose above the contest and buried shot after shot.
The game featured 22 lead changes. Arizona never led by more than seven points. And the Cardinal did well to keep the tempo to their liking. With just 12 turnovers, Arizona was never really able to get out and turn things into a track meet. Bad shots lead to runouts, and Arizona got a few, but not enough.
Stanford just didn’t take bad shots. Ingram had 16 as well, getting himself to spots inside and finishing over contests. As a team, the Cardinal hit 11 of its 20 3-pointers.
“I knew it was going to be a tough game,” head coach Tommy Lloyd said. “To overcome a performance like that in an elimination game is pretty special.”
Mathurin finished with 20 points and seven boards. Kerr Kriisa was the only other Wildcat to reach double-digits scoring—10 points with a few timely 3s—but all eyes are now on his ankle.
With about 35 seconds to play, Kriisa drove right to left across the lane, jumped to kick a pass back out beyond the arc, and when he landed, he rolled his right ankle hard on Koloko’s foot and immediately went down, pounding the floor in pain. Kriisa would be helped from the floor, unable to put any weight on his right foot, and went straight to the locker room.
“Sprained ankle of some kind,” Lloyd said. “I have no idea the severity of it.” He did say he doesn’t expect it to be a lengthy absence, but a 24-hour turnaround time makes for a bind.
If he’s unavailable, look for Kier and Terry to handle more of the point. In 17 minutes, Kier finished with four points, two boards, and two assists. Terry had seven points, three boards, and two assists.
Arizona, winners of the regular-season Pac-12 title, will play either Colorado or Oregon Friday at 6 p.m. PT.