Head coach Johnny Dawkins' fourth season at Stanford has been his best one, as the Cardinal enter Saturday's game tied with Arizona for third in the Pac-12 with a 6-4 conference record and a 16-6 mark on the year overall. Stanford is exceeding expectations so far this season, as it was predicted to finish sixth in the Pac-12 during the preseason.
The Wildcats will face another opponent that plays well on its home floor on Saturday as the Cardinal are 12-1 on the year at Maples Pavilion. Dawkins' team rebounded from three consecutive losses by beating Arizona State by 24 points on Thursday night.
Stanford has a nice mixture of upper and lower classmen that collectively excel in Dawkins' system. Handling the ball for the Cardinal is 5-foot-11, 177-pound sophomore Aaron Bright, the team's third leading scorer at 12 points per game. He's also one of the best three-point shooters in the Pac-12, as he's connecting on 42.7 percent of his attempts from beyond the arc.
When he's not scoring, he's setting up his teammates, as Bright is averaging 4.1 assists per outing as well. While his preference is to set up his teammates, Bright has the ability to knock down open shots and is likely to make the Wildcats pay for any opportunities he may have throughout the game.
Sharing the backcourt with Bright is freshman guard Chasson Randle, one of the better young players in the Pac-12 right now. The 6-foot-1, 175-pound freshman came to Stanford as the 61st ranked player in the class of 2011 and a four-star point guard. He's lived up to the billing so far, as he's averaged 12 points per game on 41.8 percent shooting this season.
While he's done well to live up to expectations, he has struggled with turnovers, posting a 0.92 assist-to-turnover ratio as a freshman. He leads the team in shot attempts and three-point attempts and he's hitting on 37.6 percent of his tries from deep. While Randle and Bright may not be the flashiest duo in the Pac-12, they are quite effective together and are the future of the Stanford program.
At small forward is another underclassman, 6-foot-7, 225-pound sophomore Josh Heustis. He's the team's second-leading rebounder with five boards per contest and with a scoring average of six points per game is Stanford's fifth leading scorer. His best work is done near the rim, where he's hitting 46.8 percent of his shots for the season.
After earning All-Pac-10 Freshman Team honors a year ago with averages of 8.1 points on 47.1 percent shooting and 5.2 rebounds per contest, Dwight Powell has taken a step back as a sophomore. The 6-foot-9, 225-pound sophomore is averaging just five points and 3.9 boards while shooting just 41.1 percent from the field.
The former five-star prospect appeared to have a bright future in front of him after a standout freshman campaign, but his progress has been stymied in his second season. At any point, if Stanford gets Powell back to the level he played at a year ago and is capable of, it may have a shot to make a late push for the Pac-12 title.
Last but certainly not least is the team's best overall player, 6-foot-8, 240-pound senior Josh Owens. The 2010-11 All-Pac-10 Honorable Mention selection is the leading scorer for the Cardinal at 12.7 points per game both for the regular season and for Pac-12 play.
Owens is also the team's leading rebounder at 6.2 boards per contest, including an average of 7.2 rebounds during conference play. He has a knack for getting himself open looks near the rim and converting them effectively, as he's shooting 60.4 percent from the field to lead the team.
He's the only player to start all 22 of Stanford's games this season and the offense will flow directly through him for the majority of Saturday's game. His matchup against fellow undersized center Jesse Perry is the premier matchup of the game and will be a deciding factor in Saturday's game.
The Cardinal have one of the best sixth men in the conference in 6-foot-6, 210-pound sophomore Anthony Brown, a 2010-11 All-Pac-10 Freshman Team selection a year ago. In 22.5 minutes per contest, Brown is fourth on the team in scoring at 7.5 points per outing on 34.2 percent shooting from three-point range and 37.3 percent from the field overall.
Due to his size, skill level, and versatility, Brown is likely going to cause Arizona some problems; especially when UA has to reach into its bench for minutes. While his numbers haven't dropped quite as drastically as Powell's, Brown's production has fallen off a bit and is another player Stanford needs to get back to full speed as soon as possible.
Stanford has another key backcourt reserve in 6-foot-4, 195-pound senior Jarrett Mann. After starting 61 of the team's 62 games over the past two seasons, Mann has been relegated to a backup role and has seen his playing time drop from 28.6 minutes as a junior to 19.2 minutes as a senior.
He has started nine of the team's 22 games this season and is posting an average of 3.7 points on 35.5 percent shooting in his final year with the program. He provides a veteran presence off the bench for the Cardinal and provides a quality backup to Bright and Randle.
Dawkins has another veteran off the bench in 6-foot-8, 230-pound senior Andrew Zimmermann, who has started 15 games this season for the Cardinal. He's now a reserve and in 11.4 minutes per game, is averaging 2.8 points on 52.3 percent shooting and 1.9 rebounds.
Zimmermann's role has decreased with the emergence of 6-foot-9, 225-pound sophomore John Gage. In 11.4 minutes per game, Gage is averaging 4.9 points and 1.5 rebounds despite missing three of the team's contests this year.
The Wildcats showed a level of grittiness, toughness, and intensity that it hasn't shown to this point in the season against California on Thursday. It also showed some resiliency and ability to battle some adversity when trailing by a big margin in the first half. Arizona will need all of those attributes on Saturday; a day when the Wildcats are 1-3 following a Thursday night game.
Angelo Chol played without question his best game of the season and it couldn't come at a better time. He gives the Wildcats an added dimension on both ends of the floor and allows Solomon Hill and Perry to return to their natural position. He logged 16 minutes on Thursday and, if he can stay out of foul trouble, he'll likely log 20-plus minutes against Stanford.
Sean Miller's back was against the wall on Thursday night and Arizona responded in a major way behind the veteran presence of Kyle Fogg and Perry as well as the solid play of the underclassmen Nick Johnson and Chol. With a more comfortable position in the Pac-12, it will be interesting to see if UA comes out with a similar, focused effort against Stanford in order to continue its ascent in the conference standings.