It was there for the taking. Dwight Powell came alive in the second half and the Stanford men's basketball team was going toe to toe with No. 7 Arizona, in Tucson, Wednesday night.
The Cardinal scored the game's first 10 points and still had a five-point lead with 5:30 remaining to play.
Arizona scored the next nine points and any thought of another signature victory dissolved into a 73-66 setback for Stanford.
At this stage of the season, there are no moral victories. The Cardinal played well enough to win, and didn't. Stanford had a chance to change the complexion of the Pac-12 Conference race and couldn't get it done.
Now comes one of the most important games of the season. Stanford faces a must-win situation at Arizona State on Saturday, where it will play the Sun Devils at 4 p.m.
If Stanford (5-5, 14-9) wants a chance to get back to the NCAA tournament for the first time in five years, it absolutely needs a victory in Tempe or the Cardinal will face the bitter disappointment of returning to another consolation tournament.
Powell scored 18 of his 24 points in the second half, but Stanford couldn't stop the Wildcats and their seniors on a night choked with historical significance: the 40th anniversary of the first game at the McKale Center.
"It shows they can compete at this level," Stanford coach Johnny Dawkins said. "This is a tough environment. It was a great effort, but it's not about the moral victories for us. It's about what we have to do to win."
Stanford did itself a favor with a win over then No. 10 Oregon a week ago. The Cardinal could not repeat the effort Wednesday night.
Stanford faded down the stretch, though, unable to stop Mark Lyons and Solomon Hill or handle Arizona's defensive pressure in the game's final minutes.
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 for his third consecutive double-double. "We let 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.
"Their seniors really stepped up," Dawkins said. "Lyons and Hill made a big difference in the end there."
The Wildcats won 67 of their first 70 games at McKale Center just continued to win, recording 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.