No. 1 Stanford’s “road warriors” continue unbeaten streak with dominant win over No. 6 Arizona, 81-54

Stanford remains undefeated, taking down No. 6 Arizona

No. 1 Stanford (8-0, 5-0 Pac-12) continues to roll in a season of adversity and unpredictability. The team’s latest victory came on the road at No. 6 Arizona (7-1, 5-1) in an 81-54 dominant defensive effort. It was the first loss of the season for the Wildcats, a team sitting at its highest ranking in program history. The last time the two teams met, back in February 2020, Arizona beat the Cardinal in overtime, 73-72.

“I thought our team really came out very inspired,” Stanford head coach Tara VanDerveer said. “Number one is, we’re playing against a great Arizona team. And, you know, we came down here last year and it was really tough for us. We lost in overtime. And our players didn’t forget that, I think. I know I didn’t forget it.”

Stanford has been on the road since the end of November due to health orders issued by Santa Clara County, including a mandatory halt in contact sports and a 10-day quarantine for anyone coming from more than 150 miles. As a result, head coach Tara VanDerveer now refers to her players as road warriors as they live out of hotels.

The win over Arizona was the second triumph in a row over a ranked team as the Cardinal beat then-No. 10 UCLA in Los Angeles on Dec. 21. Stanford played today’s game in Tucson without four members of its traveling party due to Covid-19 protocols. The group included coaches and staffers.

During her postgame presser, VanDerveer declined to provide any further details on the situation. However, given her team’s balanced effort, the absence of the four had no discernible impact on the game itself.

At the outset, it appeared that the Wildcats would give the Cardinal a hard time. Halfway through the first quarter, the home team had an 11-5 lead after three straight treys, with two coming from senior forward Sam Thomas. However, that would turn out to be the largest lead of the game for the Wildcats. Stanford exploded with a 13-0 run before Arizona could score again.

The Cardinal went into the second period with a 20-13 lead and continued to dominate for the next three quarters, including holding the Wildcats to just seven points in the second quarter while the visitors put up 24 points. Sophomore guard Haley Jones scored ten points and pulled down five rebounds in the second quarter. At the half, Stanford led 44-20.

Stanford’s success in keeping Arizona firmly in the rearview was due to the team’s defensive effort, most notably their ability to limit Arizona sharpshooter Aari McDonald’s production. The dynamic senior guard came into the game averaging 20.1 points, 5.9 rebounds, and 4.6 assists per contest. While Anna Wilson guarded McDonald for much of the game, her teammates, including fellow guard Lexie Hull, provided help. Hull was a tag team partner for Wilson in stifling McDonald, who finished the game with 12 points, three rebounds, and zero assists, well below her season averages.

“Anna Wilson just worked her butt off,” VanDerveer said of the fifth-year guard’s defense, which was a cornerstone of the Cardinal’s strategy.

“Our game plan started with Anna Wilson,” VanDerveer said, “and her defense on Aari McDonald…Her defense was phenomenal. She hit three threes in the first half. She really got us going.”

Wilson played down her defensive accomplishment.

“Obviously, she’s a tremendous player and really great,” Wilson said of McDonald. “Tara always says tag team, and our team did really great on defense.”

Stanford also won the battle of the boards, outrebounding Arizona 51-32. VanDerveer commented that she was “really proud” of her team’s rebounding effort.

Jones led all scorers with 18 points and added 10 rebounds for a double-double. Hull finished with 13 points and four rebounds. Sophomore forward Fran Belibi added 12 points, eight rebounds, and four assists. Freshman forward Cameron Brink was also prolific with 11 points, nine rebounds, and five blocks. Wilson neared a double-double with nine points and nine rebounds.

Thomas paced Arizona with 14 points plus five rebounds. Junior guard Bendu Yeaney was also in double figures for the Wildcats with 10 points.

Stanford continues its road travel, facing Arizona State on Sunday in Tempe. Arizona State hosts California on the same day.

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