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January 29, 2014

Defense helps No. 1 Arizona survive, stay perfect

There have been times this season the shots have not fallen. But for the first time, top-ranked Arizona looked out of control, out of sync and outhustled Wednesday night in Palo Alto, Calif.

But the suffocating defense has never disappeared, and that is what carried the Wildcats to their 21st consecutive victory and kept them undefeated.

Nick Johnson knocked down the go-ahead 3-pointer and a pair of free throws to lift UA to a grind-it-out, 60-57 win at Stanford.

"We're an outstanding defensive team," UA head coach Sean Miller said. "It isn't as if we changed any scheme, we just buckled down and had a lot of players playing very hard, and our ability to hold them to what we did is a big reason we won. Our defense won the game tonight.

"No question we have to execute better on offense and we have to be more confident at the line."

Johnson made 4 of 9 shots and finished with a game-high 16 points for the Wildcats (21-0, 8-0 Pac-12 Conference), who overcame a 36 percent shooting night and 11 missed free throws.

The Cardinal (13-7, 4-4 Pac-12) led by as many as 7 with 12:34 to play, but converted just one of their final 13 field goal attempts over the final 10 minutes.

Tied at 55 after Dwight Powell's up-and-under layup provided Stanford's lone basket in that stretch, Johnson then connected from long range with 51 seconds to play. It was Arizona's first lead since the 19:41 mark - also a Johnson 3-pointer.

The junior finished 3 of 4 from beyond the arc.

But the basket was setup by a rare offensive rebound - one of just six on the night for the Wildcats - from Kaleb Tarczewski. UA, which came in averaging more than 13 offensive boards per game, was outrebounded for the first time this season, 38-36.

But that ultimately did not matter.

Aaron Gordon had an opportunity to ice the game but missed the front end of a 1-and-1 with 11.6 seconds remaining. Chasson Randle and Johnson then traded free throws, running the score to 60-57.

Randle's potential game-tying 3-pointer misfired with two seconds to play and Arizona survived.

"For 38 minutes, I thought we were right there," Stanford head coach Johnny Dawkins said. "Credit Arizona for making the plays they had to make at the end. Nick Johnson stepping up, whether at the foul line or whether it was a 3-point bucket late. I've watched a lot of tape of them, he's done it all year."

Powell and Josh Huestis scored 13 points apiece to pace the Cardinal, who shot just 37.5 percent. Randle, the team's leading scorer this season, made just 3 of 15 shots and finished with 12.

For the first time since 1976, three teams remain unbeaten heading into February. No. 2 Syracuse (20-0) and No. 4 Wichita State (22-0) are the other two with a shot to become the first school since St. Joseph's in 2004 to complete a perfect regular season.

For the second consecutive game, the Wildcats fell behind early as the Cardinal took a 9-2 lead into the first media timeout. But UA went on a 16-5 run and picked up two quick fouls on Powell.

However, Arizona connected on just 8 of 22 shots from the field in the half and 12 of 21 free throws - including a 3-of-8 effort from Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. That allowed Stanford to hang around and retake the lead heading into halftime.

Anthony Brown's basket before time expired put the Cardinal up, 31-30.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Tracy McDannaldTracy McDannald
GOAZCATS.com Senior Editor

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