UA remains No. 1 after routing Stanford - The Explorer: Sports

UA remains No. 1 after routing Stanford

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Posted: Thursday, January 30, 2014 1:51 pm | Updated: 11:38 am, Mon Feb 3, 2014.

On Stanford's end, the thought must have been: What else do we have to do?

The Cardinal tied a season-best with just seven turnovers. They also became the first team to out-rebound top-ranked Arizona, 38-36.

The Wildcats were reeling Wednesday, more than perhaps any other moment this season. Eleven free throws were left on the table in a tight road contest at Maples Pavilion. More than the games against Drexel, Michigan or UCLA, it looked as if UA was a beaten team. Its talented freshmen were erratic.

But when crunch time neared, the "little things" suddenly swayed in favor of the Wildcats, who remained undefeated in a 60-57 nail-biter to post their 21st consecutive victory.

Arizona collected less than half of the number of offensive rebounds it averages, but No. 6 was the biggest of the season. Kaleb Tarczewski's offensive rebound setup Nick Johnson's go-ahead 3-pointer with 51 seconds to play.

The long-range conversion was the highlight of the team's 6-of-14 display from beyond the arc. All season, the discussion has been whether a poor free-throw shooting night and a team not known for its 3-point marksmanship would cost it a few games, and, so far, there isn't even one.

It was close, but that only counts in horseshoes.

But beyond Johnson's heroics and the other obvious numbers, the Wildcats continued to play through any tough luck and focus on the areas they could control. UA turned the ball over just eight times on the road, an effort captained by point guard T.J. McConnell.

The junior was Johnson's only consistent help of the evening, finishing with 11 points on 5-of-8 shooting to go with eight rebounds and four assists. McConnell never turned the ball over, either.

Nothing, however, has been more consistent or trustworthy than the Wildcats' defense this season. The 32 missed shots on the offensive end never snowballed, trailing by as many as 7 the whole game.

Arizona continued to hang around, much like the opposition typically hopes to do to score the upset bid. But the Wildcats are well-versed in pressure situations and it was the Cardinal who now had to prove they could hold on.

After Brandon Ashley's baseline jump shot tied the game at 53 with 6:30 to play, neither team scored for nearly four minutes. The drought was part of a disastrous stretch that resulted in a 1-of-13 close to the contest for Stanford, which produced just four points over the final 9:57 and shot 31 percent in the second half.

All that was left was for Johnson to swoop in and save the day.

The most valuable player argument on these Wildcats has already been picked apart. Any number of players on any given night can step into the spotlight. Like a baseball team, it is as if UA has a number of aces it could hand the ball to.

But Johnson can deliver both that complete game and play the role of closer on the other nights. The 6-3 guard was the latter, overcoming a 2-of-7 start to score his team's final seven points.

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