Defense. Defense and Nick Johnson. Defense and Nick Johnson and no panic from the Arizona Wildcats.
Good to know some things never change.
Top-ranked Arizona, on a night in which its rebounding edge was non-existent and its offense sputtered, survived at Stanford 60-57 on Wednesday night, grinding through the wringer to emerge with its undefeated record still intact.
“Our guys have a lot of resiliency,” coach Sean Miller said in his postgame show on 1290-AM (KCUB). “Nick Johnson’s plays at the end were as big as you could have come up with it, especially on the road in conference play.”
Johnson hit one of his signature shots this season — a floater from 15 feet — to give Arizona a 55-53 lead with 2:35 to play. His 3-pointer with 51 seconds left put the Cats up 58-55. And although he missed the front end of a one-and-one with 25.1 seconds to go, he hit both of his attempts from the line with 5.8 seconds left.
The Wildcats led 60-57 at that point, and they held on as Stanford’s Chasson Randle missed off the rim after getting a good look from 3-point range at the buzzer.
“I thought our defense turned it up down the stretch,” Miller said, “which really allowed us to escape with a win.”
Arizona allowed only four points after Stanford took a 53-49 lead with 12:34 to go. The Cardinal made just 1 of 13 shots in the final 10 minutes.
“Our ability to defend at a very high level, to get defensive stop after defensive stop when the other team really needed a score, that’s what we’ve done from day one,” Miller said.
Stanford (13-7 overall, 4-4 Pac-12) has the size to match up with inside with Arizona, which trailed by one at halftime and as many as seven in the second half. The Wildcats were out-rebounded, 38-36, the first time all season they have been beaten on the glass.
“Stanford did a really good job of keeping us off the offensive glass. I give them a lot of credit,” Miller said. “I don’t know if our guys were not necessarily going as we normally do. We can execute better.”
But as was the case in other big road games — San Diego State, Michigan, UCLA — Arizona found a way to execute one or two more times down the stretch.
Let’s go back to Johnson’s 3-pointer. That was set up by what was a rare offensive rebound for Arizona on Wednesday night, as Kaleb Tarczewski grabbed a missed shot from Brandon Ashley and whipped a pass to Johnson up top.
“He had a huge rebound right there,” Miller said. “That, to me, was the biggest play of the game.”
Arizona, through 20 games, had rebounded 40 percent of its missed shots. Without its usual allotment of offense rebounds and putbacks — Arizona had only six rebounds off its 32 misses — the offense was out of sync most of the night.
“We didn’t just struggle because we missed open shots and free throws,” Miller said. “We didn’t execute at times as well as we have all season.”
About those free throws … that’s one of those things that figures to get Arizona in trouble one day. The Cats made 18 of 29 (62.1 percent) and missed the front end of a pair of one-and-ones in the final 34 seconds.
There are going to be games in which Arizona’s offense goes missing for stretches. When shots aren’t falling. When the other team is big, and good, and at home.
Even when all those factors line up, the Wildcats can count on their defense, Nick Johnson late in games and the resiliency through adversity.
No. 1 survives.
Six more of these conference road games to go.
Arizona signee Stanley Johnson was selected a McDonald’s All-American on Wednesday, the fifth of Miller’s recruits to earn that honor in the past three seasons. … It was 10 years ago that Arizona and Stanford played arguably its most memorable game (at least, that’s how Steve Rivera saw it when he examined the series for TucsonCitizen.com). That was the game when Nick Robinson hit a 35-footer at the buzzer for an 80-77 victory, with Tiger Woods among those storming the court. If you can bear watching, the video is linked here. … Arizona has won eight consecutive games against Stanford. The teams play again March 2 in McKale. … Former Arizona player Andre Iguodala attended the game (see picture below) and visited with the team in the locker room.
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— A.J. Bramlett (@AJBRAMLETT) January 30, 2014
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