TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) — Arizona got off to an awful start, threatening to spoil its anniversary party at the McKale Center. Even when the Wildcats rallied to get within reach of Stanford, they couldn’t seem to pull away.
The seniors, as usual, took over just in time.
Mark Lyons scored a season-high 25 points and led a key stretch in the second half, Solomon Hill scored 20 of his 23 points in the second half, and No. 7 Arizona held off Stanford 73-66 Wednesday night on the 40th anniversary of the first game at the McKale Center.
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“At the end of the game, that’s when great plays are made,” said Lyons, who also dished out six assists. “Me and Solomon made great plays at the end game, a lot of us made great defensive plays to open the game up. You’re really not a good player if you don’t like it in crunch time.”
Playing in front of color-coordinated home crowd, Arizona (20-2, 8-2 Pac-12) came out flat, spoiling the festive atmosphere inside their 40-year-old arena.
The Wildcats needed most of the first half to catch the Cardinal and traded a flurry of made baskets in a back-and-forth second half before their seniors took over.
Lyons has turned his lone season in the desert into a get-it-done showcase, making big plays down the stretch of close games all year. He did it again against the Cardinal, hitting jumpers, scoring on hard drives and setting up his teammates for easy baskets inside.
Hill has the same kind of mentality in close games in his final season in Tucson, becoming more aggressive when team needs it. He also ramped up with the game on the line, shaking off a 1-for-6 first half by hitting some big shots, including a thunderous dunk on a drive down the lane that brought the fans to their feet and put the Wildcats firmly in control.
Behind its two seniors and with a lift from Angelo Chol — he had eight rebounds and six points with Grant Jerrett out — Arizona made 15 of 25 shots in the second half.
“Their seniors really stepped up,” Stanford coach Johnny Dawkins said. “Lyons and Hill made a big difference in the end there.”
Stanford (14-9, 5-5) dominated Arizona early to put a damper on Arizona’s celebration. Even as the Wildcats rallied and the McKale Center came to life, the Cardinal stayed close behind Dwight Powell, who scored 18 of his 24 points in the second half.
Stanford faded down the stretch, though, unable to stop Lyons and Hill or handle Arizona’s defensive pressure in the game’s final 3 minutes.
Powell grabbed 10 rebounds, but had five turnovers, and Aaron Bright added 16 points for the Cardinal, who finished 7 of 19 from 3-point range.
“Even though tonight was a loss, we came out and showed we can hang with anyone in the country,” said Stanford’s Josh Huestis, who had 10 points and 10 rebounds. “We let things down in the last couple of minutes and that’s where we lost it.”
The McKale Center became one of college basketball’s most difficult places to visit during its 40 years of existence, the rowdy fans and strong Arizona teams often overwhelming opponents.
The arena named after former athletic director J.K. “Pop” McKale has been home to some of the game’s best players, from Sean Elliott and Steve Kerr to Jason Gardner and Derrick Williams, along with a Hall of Fame coach in Lute Olson.
The Wildcats won 67 of their first 70 games after McKale Center opened and kept going, posting a winning percentage of .832, including 10 undefeated home seasons.
Stanford, like so many other teams, hasn’t had much luck in the building, losing 28 of 36 games.
Bright gave the Cardinal a boost early, hitting a pair of 3s as the Cardinal scored the game’s first 10 points, then hit another, giving him 11 points — nearly three above his season average — in the first 8 minutes.
The rest of the half turned defensive, with neither team able to hit much of anything as Arizona chipped the lead down to one.
More shots feel in the second half, but the gap remained close.
Powell took over for Stanford, scoring on a variety of jump hooks and drives. He also set up Chasson Randle for a 3-pointer and hit a couple of free throws to keep the Cardinal ahead.
Lyons was the man for the Wildcats despite an elbow to the throat that had him coughing and in pain for at least a minute on the bench.
The graduate senior gave Arizona its first lead at 38-37 and later set up Brandon Ashley for a dunk with a bounce pass in traffic. Lyons also scored on a breakaway off a steal and set up Chol for a layup with a tough pass through two defenders.
Lyons kept going. Powell didn’t.
Lyons followed a missed jumper by Powell to set up Chol for a layup with another dish inside, then scored on backdoor cut to cap a 9-0 run that put the Wildcats up 58-54.
After Bright hit a 3-pointer, Lyons followed with one of his own and found Kevin Parrom in the corner for another that stretched the lead to 65-59 with 1:39 left.
“Mark not only scored tonight, he made his teammates better,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said. “His six assists were much closer to eight or nine. He ran the team and led the team, and really let the game come to him.”