The top-seeded Wildcats (29-3) had a hard time shaking the Cardinal in a win late in the regular season and faced a similar issue to open the tournament.
Ninth-seeded Stanford (16-16) beat Arizona State on a buzzer-beater to open the show in Las Vegas on Wednesday and hit Arizona with a flurry of 3-pointers in the encore.
The Cardinal went 11 for 20 behind the arc and Spencer Jones hit shots from everywhere while scoring 28 points. Stanford shot 54% against the Pac-12’s best defensive team in an atmosphere that felt like McKale Center north.
Arizona made the biggest plays when it counted most to earn a spot in Friday’s semifinals.
Koloko put Arizona up 82-77 on a two-handed dunk, but Harrison Ingram (16 points) cut the lead to two on a corner 3 with 13 seconds left. The Cardinal quickly fouled Pelle Larsson and he made two free throws with 8.5 seconds left to send the Wildcats into the next round.
Arizona took an unexpected road to Las Vegas, winning a Pac-12 regular-season title not even their coach expected.
Using principles he helped forge 22 years as Mark Few’s assistant at Gonzaga, Tommy Lloyd turned the Wildcats into a fast and furious pack.
Arizona’s offensive possessions are the shortest in Division I — just over 14 seconds — and the Wildcats were third nationally in scoring at 84.7 points per game.
The Cardinal managed to drop an anchor on Arizona’s aerials for a bit in the teams’ second meeting this season — they were blown out in the first — before the Wildcats pulled away for an 81-69 win.
Stanford nearly shot for shot with the Wildcats in the third go-round. Jones hit Arizona with an array of midrange jumpers to score 13 points and the Cardinal went 6 of 8 from 3 in the first half.
Arizona had success getting the ball into the post and Mathurin seemed to have an answer each time the Cardinal tried to go on a run, scoring 14 points to give Arizona a 40-37 lead.
Stanford kept dropping in shots to start the second half. Jones opened with a pair of 3s and the Cardinal hit six of their seven shots, three of those 3s.
Arizona kept pace, trading baskets with Stanford in a back-and-forth second half, neither team able to gain much separation.
The Wildcats threatened to pull away twice, stretching the lead to five. Stanford stopped the momentum and quieted the crowd both times by continuing to drain shots, setting up the tight finish.
Stanford showed a lot of grit and in what may be its season finale with an incredible shooting performance. It still wasn’t enough against one of the nation’s best team.
Arizona was put to the test by the tournament’s ninth seed and passed. The Wildcats seem to find a way to win even with everything doesn’t go right.
Arizona: Will face the Oregon-Colorado winner Friday in the semifinals.