No. 5 Wildcats cruise to 91-69 win over Stanford in finale
TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) — T.J. McConnell dropped to his knees and kissed the “A″ logo at center court. He rose to an ovation from the home crowd, raising his arms in acknowledgement before walking into the arms of waiting teammates.
For a player who never lost on his home court, McConnell wanted to show his appreciation for how much McKale Center has meant to him.
McConnell had 10 points and 11 assists in his final home game, helping No. 5 Arizona close out the regular season with a 91-69 victory over Stanford on Saturday.
“I had seen people do that (kiss the logo) on their senior days in college,” said McConnell, who had the net draped around his neck and a Pac-12 Champions hat on his head. “I respect this place so much and I love this place so much that I needed to do something like that.”
McConnell wasn’t much of a factor in the first half while saddled with foul trouble, but it did little to hamper the Wildcats.
Arizona (28-3, 16-2) led by 16 points after a crisp first half and fought through a chippy second to extend the nation’s longest home winning streak to 38 games.
Brandon Ashley had 15 points and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson added 14 for the Wildcats, who ended the regular season with an eight-game winning streak.
The finale was one big party after all the pushing and shoving with the Cardinals, filled with dancing, cheering and the players fighting their way through the student section during a victory lap.
The fans yelled “MVP” when McConnell took his turn cutting the nets and standout freshman Stanley Johnson was greeted with “One more year!”
Next up is next week’s Pac-12 Tournament in Las Vegas, where they will be the No. 1 seed, and what they hope is an extended run in the NCAA Tournament.
“We all know the last weekend in college basketball is not like this everywhere,” Arizona coach Sean Miller told the crowd. “This is a good team, as you know, and hopefully this is just the beginning.”
Stanford (18-12, 9-9) held its own early against the Wildcats, but wilted against their pressure and the revved-up crowd.
The Cardinal turned the game physical in the second half, but all that seemed to do was lead to foul trouble and their seventh loss in 10 games to close the season.
Chasson Randle led Stanford with 16 points. Stefan Nastic and Anthony Brown added 14 each.
“Those kids gave what they had, but in this type of environment and under these circumstances, it’s a little bit difficult,” Stanford coach Johnny Dawkins said.
Arizona had little to gain from this game other than maintaining momentum into next week’s Pac-12 Tournament after wrapping up its second straight conference title with Thursday’s 39-point win over California.
Stanford needed a big boost to have any shot at making the NCAA Tournament.
The Cardinal dented their chances with a 67-62 loss to Arizona State on Thursday and lost starting forward Michael Humphrey to a sprained left ankle 4 minutes into the game. The 6-foot-9 freshman was out against Arizona and is questionable for the start of the Pac-12 Tournament.
Stanford managed to hang with the Wildcats well into the first half, overcoming a slow start to pull within 27-25.
Arizona took over after that, forcing the Cardinal into one tough shot after another during a 13-0 run that made it 42-27.
The Wildcats made 16 of 29 shots — 5 of 9 from 3-point range — and led 47-31 at halftime after York hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer. And they did it without much help from McConnell, who played 8 minutes after picking up two fouls.
“They definitely took advantage of some momentum plays,” Nastic said.
The game got physical to open the second half, with players pushing, shoving and falling to the court as the crowd grew animated.
It did nothing to change the outcome.
Stanford managed to pull within 12, but Arizona stretched the lead again behind a three-point play on a two-handed dunk by Hollis-Jefferson and another two-hander by Kaleb Tarczewski over Nastic.
Miller cleared his bench with about 3 minutes left, staggering the substitutions so players could soak in appreciation from the crowd.
“It doesn’t stop here,” McConnell said. “We have to keep playing like that in Vegas.”
Stanford: The Cardinal have lost 11 straight to Arizona. ... Randle and Nastic both fouled out.
Arizona: The Wildcats honored McConnell, Matt Korcheck and Drew Melon during a postgame ceremony for Senior Day. ... Hollis-Jefferson and Johnson were each called for technical fouls for arguing with the officials.
Stanford opens the Pac-12 tournament Wednesday in Las Vegas.
Arizona has a bye before starting the Pac-12 tournament on Thursday.