STANFORD, Calif. — No. 1 Arizona is still unbeaten, but if it had not been for the clutch play of guard Nick Johnson and strong team defense down the stretch, the Wildcats would have a loss on their record.
Johnson scored his team’s final seven points, including a go-ahead 3-pointer with 49 seconds to go, as the Wildcats overcame a seven-point, second-half deficit to beat Stanford 60-57 on Wednesday at Maples Pavilion.
“I kept on looking over at the coach and he gave me the freedom to call my play a few times in a row,” Johnson said. “I just tried to make plays for my team. It was really not our offense that was struggling, it was our defense at first. But down the stretch, we really capitalized on defense.”
Johnson finished with a modest scoring total of 16 points, but his importance to the Wildcats (21-0, 8-0 in the Pac-12) was not lost on Stanford coach Johnny Dawkins.
“I watched film on him and he’s done that all year,” Dawkins said. “He produced in the clutch and was the difference in the game in a variety of ways.”
The other hero for Arizona was center Kaleb Tarczewski for one specific play. He had just five points and four rebounds, but his offensive board with less than a minute left led to Johnson’s wide-open 3-pointer that gave Arizona the lead for good.
“It comes down to that one play,” said Stanford forward Josh Huestis, who finished with 13 points.
Stanford (13-7, 4-4) was one of those teams that figured to have a shot at knocking off the Wildcats. Spurred on by their first home sellout crowd of the season, the Cardinal was in position for the upset.
“For 38 minutes, I thought we were right there,” Dawkins said.
But the Wildcats used some tough defense along with Johnson’s clutch play to pull out the victory.
Stanford guard Chasson Randle, the team’s leading scorer at 19.1 points per game, wound up with 12 points, but was just 3-for-15 from the field.
Stanford as a team made just one field goal in the final 10 minutes, as the Wildcats rallied from a 51-44 deficit with 12:34 to go.
“Defense was why we won,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said. “If you look at the game within the game, 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 1. Tonight if you say, ‘Why did we win?’ Well, that was it.”
The Wildcats eventually tied the game 53-53 on forward Brandon Ashley’s jumper with 6:30 remaining.
Neither team did much offensively from there until Johnson hit an eight-foot floater in the lane to put Arizona ahead 55-53 with 2:36 left.
Stanford forward Dwight Powell, who had 13 points, tied it with a reverse layup with 1:20 left, but the pivotal sequence followed.
After Ashley missed a jumper with 55 seconds left, Tarczewski grabbed the offensive rebound in traffic, and fired it out to Johnson, who was awaiting at the top of the key.
Johnson made the open 3-point shot, giving the Wildcats a 58-55 lead with 49 seconds left.
“We were all converging for the rebound,” said Dawkins. “That’s one of the toughest plays to cover.”
Arizona’s missed free throws kept Stanford alive.
Johnson missed the front end of a one-and-one situation with 33.7 seconds, but Huestis missed a 3-point attempt with 13 seconds left.
Arizona forward Aaron Gordon missed the front end of a one-and-one with 11.6 seconds left, and Randle hit a pair of free throws with 7.0 seconds left to make it a 58-57 game.
However, Johnson then hit both his free throws with 5.8 seconds left, and Randle missed a long 3-point attempt with two seconds remaining.
“We were right there for 38 minutes,” Dawkins said.
Stanford held a 31-30 lead at halftime as Cardinal guard Anthony Brown hit a five-foot shot in traffic with three seconds left.
Stanford took an early 9-2 lead as Arizona missed eight of its first nine shots from the field. Arizona then scored eight straight points to
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