PALO ALTO, Calif. -- A most unlikely player provided the exclamation point yesterday to No. 2 Stanford's still-undefeated season.
Nick Robinson, 24, a junior thrust into a starting role by injuries to two players, converted his own steal into a 35-foot field goal at the buzzer, lifting the Cardinal to a stunning, 80-77 victory over Arizona that tied the school-record winning streak at 20 games and set off a raucous celebration on the floor of Maples Pavilion.
Stanford (20-0, 11-0 Pacific-10) and No. 3 Saint Joseph's, which moved to 20-0 yesterday with an 89-63 win over La Salle, are the only undefeated teams in Division I.
Trailing 77-73 after the Wildcats' Salim Stoudamire hit his second three-pointer of the afternoon with 61 seconds remaining, Stanford scored the last seven points on a free throw and a three-pointer by Josh Childress and Robinson's running shot that just beat the buzzer.
"To be down by four that late and to come back, that's just luck in that situation. I'm starting to think this group is something special," Stanford coach Mike Montgomery said. "It was an unbelievable game. This is just another step in what's turning out to be a doggone good season."
Arizona, which fell behind by as many as 13 points in the first half and a dozen early in the second half, contributed turnovers by point guard Mustafa Shakur and Stoudamire to the remarkable finish that dropped the No. 12 Wildcats (14-6, 6-5) five games behind the Cardinal in the Pac-10.
Playing against the only nationally ranked team left on its schedule and playing before Stanford sports royalty in the persons of Tiger Woods, Jim Plunkett and Bill Walsh, the Cardinal survived its third close call of the season after a one-point win at Arizona State last month and a rally from 19 points down at Oregon one week ago.
"This is a situation we've been in before," Robinson said. "We have the mentality that this is a 40-minute game, and we're going to play right to the end."
Although he is nominally a reserve, Robinson has been unusually busy this season. The 6-foot-6 Robinson, who began his college career late after serving two years on a Mormon mission to Brazil, started the season at small forward because Childress was sidelined by a foot injury. Against Arizona, he was filling in for power forward Justin Davis, who injured a knee nine days earlier at Oregon State, and Davis' backup, Matt Haryasz, who rolled his ankle in practice earlier in the week.
Stanford rarely counts on Robinson to score. His average of 6.6 was the seventh best on the team before yesterday and he had only five points when Stoudamire, the game's high scorer with 24 points, came dribbling into his territory.
Matt Lottich was the primary defender but, as Stoudamire spun right and then left in an attempt to free himself for a shot, Robinson and center Rob Little converged on the elusive guard. All reached for the ball.
Stanford still had a foul to give without fear of free throws, and Montgomery had instructed his players to use it if necessary.
In any case, the ball bounded to Robinson, who grabbed it, dribbled quickly upcourt and launched the shot with half a second left on the clock. Behind him, point guard Chris Hernandez -- who led the Cardinal with 20 points, seven rebounds and five assists -- was attempting to call a timeout.
"Thank goodness, the official didn't see me," Hernandez said.
There was one more moment of potential peril faced by the team when the 1,200 members of the student section in the capacity crowd of 7,391 stampeded onto the court. In their excitement, they knocked over the VIP seats. Plunkett's wife, Gerri, suffered an ankle injury, but she was able to leave the building on her feet.
Woods, who had drawn criticism for passing up the PGA's National Pro-Am down the road at Pebble Beach this weekend, escaped unscathed in the company of his fiancee.
NOTE: Stanford also began the 2000-01 season with 20 straight wins. The Cardinal went 31-3 that season, losing to Maryland in the NCAA tournament's round of eight.
Newsday is a Tribune Publishing newspaper. The Associated Press contributed to this article.