Sports

A great effort goes unrewarded for Stanford men's hoops

 
KZ Okpala scored 29 points and had six rebounds in Stanford's 75-70 loss to Arizona on Wednesday night. Photo courtesy of Stanford Athletes.

KZ Okpala and his Stanford men's basketball teammates came to play. It was as close to a must-win game as could be given the time of year.

The Cardinal delivered one of its best games yet and Okpala matched his career high with 29 points but it still wasn't good enough to end Arizona's long streak of success against Stanford.

The Wildcats beat Stanford, 75-70, in a Pac-12 Conference contest Wednesday night to extend their winning streak against the Cardinal to 18 games, the longest intra-conference win streak in the Pac-12. The Cardinal last beat the Wildcats at home on Jan. 4, 2009.

"It hurts," Stanford's only senior Josh Sharma said. "We knew going in they beat us 17 in a row and we wanted to break that. It meant a lot to us and we didn't get it done. We believe if we execute the game plan and play 40 minutes, we can beat any team. Arizona just played better that we did tonight."

Okpala was 11 of 16 shooting and went to the foul line 12 times, making seven. He also had six rebounds and a team-best four assists.

"We know KZ can do that," said Sharma, who led the Cardinal with seven rebounds. "They took away the 3s and he can drive to the basket when he wants."

Okpala said he changed gears because Arizona defended the 3-point shot so well. Stanford was 1 of 9 from long range.

"I didn't get too many open 3s. They took that away," Okpala said. "So, 'just drive it.' I have that in my game too."

Arizona coach Sean Miller said there was a short stretch during the game when they were able to limit Okpala and that proved the difference in the game.

"He's one of the best players in the Pac-12," Miller said. "We hit about a six-minute stretch in the second half where we defended him the right way. Other than that, we really didn't have an answer for him. You have to crowd him and make him pass it. You can't let him will himself to the rim."

The Cardinal was up 52-47 with 12:05 left to play before the Wildcats scored the next 10 points as part of a 14-2 run to open a seven-point edge in the final seven minutes.

Sharma dunked, on an alley-oop pass from Okpala, with 1:13 remaining to bring the Cardinal within 69-68 but Arizona made its free throws down the stretch.

Stanford (7-8, 0-3) looks to rebound against visiting Arizona State in a 3 p.m. game Saturday.

"We're going to get better. We're going to break through," Stanford coach Jerod Haase said. "I can't promise you when, but when we do, there will be a lot of positives."

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