TUCSON - So much for Arizona’s lofty goal of going undefeated in the Pac-10. The Wildcats didn’t even make it halfway through the conference schedule.
Stanford weathered a 20-3 late run and knocked off the country’s top-ranked team 82-77 on Thursday night before a disbelieving packed house at McKale Center.
“Give them credit for not panicking,’’ Arizona coach Lute Olson said. “It takes a pretty solid basketball team to maintain their composure, and they certainly did that.’’
The Cardinal beat a No. 1-ranked team for just the third time in 26 tries - and first time on the road - but there was no wild celebration afterward. The Stanford players exchanged pats on the back and a couple of hugs, then walked to the locker room.
After all, it was the third year in a row that Stanford had won at McKale.
“We’ve beat ranked teams before. They just happened to be No. 1,’’ Stanford’s Nick Robinson said. “The fact that we’d beaten them here the two times previous, we had a lot of confidence.’’
The loss compounded what already had been a lousy week for the Wildcats. They had rallied from 20 points down to win by 17 at Kansas on Saturday. But rather than basking in that victory, they had to answer questions about an allegation that some players pilfered candy bars and change from a motel vending machine.
Luke Walton, the only suspect identified by a witness, denied it, as did the other players. An assistant coach reimbursed the motel $80 and no charges were filed.
Arizona (15-2, 7-1) remained tied with California for first in the Pac-10. No. 20 Cal lost at Arizona State 75-70 Thursday night. The Bears play at Arizona on Saturday.
In other games involving ranked teams Thursday night, it was No. 5 Duke 80, Butler 60; No. 10 Maryland 75, North Carolina State 60; and No. 22 Oregon 96, UCLA 91 in overtime.
Matt Lottich scored 23 points, including 5-of-8 3-pointers, for Stanford. His 3-pointer with 58 seconds left put Stanford ahead 80-75.
“Our goal is to finish in the top three in the Pac-10,’’ Lottich said. “This was a big step.’’
Julius Barnes, who had 14 points and 10 assists but shot just 4-for-21, sank both free throws in a one-and-one situation with 8.5 seconds to play to seal the victory.
“Julius helped me get some great shots,’’ Lottich said. “They were sucking down on him, so he was kicking the ball out to me.’’
Jason Gardner scored 22, and Walton a season-high 20 for the Wildcats, who committed 19 turnovers and were 14-for-26 at the line.
“We have to take better care of the ball,’’ Olson said. “That’s the worst part of our game right now.’’
Salim Stoudamire, who scored 34 at Kansas, played just 17 minutes because of foul trouble and had three points on 1-for-5 shooting.
Rob Little scored 13 for Stanford, including two big baskets down the stretch. Robinson added 10 points.
Arizona trailed 59-45 with 11:34 to play, but seemed headed for another trademark comeback after a 20-3 outburst put the Wildcats up 65-62. But Stanford didn’t fold.
Robinson’s driving layup put the Cardinal ahead for good 77-75 with 1:42 to go. Gardner’s 3-point try was off the mark, then Lottich sank one from long-range and it was an 80-75 lead.
“They made us break down,’’ Montgomery said. “They took us out of a lot of stuff, but we had a guy step up and make a clutch play and once that happened it was like, ÔWe’re all right. We can compete.’’’
Lottich missed the first of a one-and-one with 23 seconds to play to give Arizona a chance to tie it, but the Wildcats couldn’t convert.
“I think we let up. I think we came in here not mentally ready,’’ Gardner said. “We still have to understand we need to put two halves together.’’