Great gameplan propels struggling Stanford

Just when you thought that things were going well for the Wildcats. The offense was finally clicking and the great defense seemed to be a standard of this team. Mustafa Shakur seemed to be turning the corner and Hassan Adams seemed to have found his shot. The Cats downed Cal and things looked good against a struggling Stanford team. Arizona should have won this game, but apparently no one told Stanford that.

First off, give credit to Trent Johnson and the Cardinal coaching staff. They had the Wildcats perfectly scouted, especially on the defensive end. Frankly, the Cardinal were only the second team all season to effectively exploit the wildcat defense.

First and foremost the Cardinal hit their open shots. They shot the lights out, hitting 58%. This is not too surprising, as we all knew they could shoot. What makes this so shocking is the number of open looks the Cardinal got. All season long teams struggled to get open looks. Most teams shot poorly, because the Wildcat defense would force them to run down the clock and settle for bad looks.

Not Stanford. The Cardinal ran down the shot clock, but got the looks they wanted, then made the shot.

How did Stanford get so many good looks? The simple answer is screens. Stanford did an amazing job setting and utilizing screens. One thing Stanford did was shoot the ball from behind the screen. Arizona had been so good switching off the screen and Stanford did not wait for the Wildcat defenders to switch. On several occasions they shot as the switch was occurring.

They also got to the hoop. They saw something on video and exploited it. They figured out that their guards could get to the rim at will. For some reason the Wildcat defenders never collapsed when guys like Chris Hernandez and Dan Grunfeld drove to the hoop. When the Wildcat defenders did collapse, the Cardinal players knew exactly where their teammates out on the perimeter were.

What is so puzzling is when did Hernandez and Grunfeld become the best backcourt in the conference? They teamed for 51 points and made the Wildcats look silly. Neither guy is as athletic as any of the Wildcat guards. Grunfeld is a heck of a shooter, but put him on ASU and he's Kevin Kruger with three more inches of height. Stanford has always done a great job creating shots for their less athletic players. They know how to get a guy like Grunfeld open for shots he can make.

As for Hernandez, is there a better floor general in the Pac-10? He's not as athletic as Mustafa Shakur or Aaron Brooks, but he's a great leader and just gets it done. He is a good shooter and a decent athlete, but he has an unbelievable feel for the game. Hernandez is not the most talented player in the conference, but he may be the most valuable. Just look at how bad they were without him. With Hernandez sidelined with back spasms, the Cardinal lost convincingly to ASU, the team Arizona destroyed a week earlier. With Hernandez running the show, Stanford beat Arizona and did it in convincing fashion.

What I really take away from this game is how was Stanford under .500. There is no doubt that this team is nowhere near as talented as the No. 1 ranked team of a year ago, but they have enough talent and players to be pretty good. There is no reason they should not be in the top five of the league, but right now they are just 1-3 in the league and trying to find an identity.

It really looked like the Arizona team of a year ago. The Wildcats played okay on offense, but were poor on defense. At times Shakur looked confused, and Stanford took advantage. Early on Channing Frye struggled and the Cardinal pounced.

The most telling stat was the shooting percentage. Arizona shot 38%, Stanford hit over 58%. All other stats were pretty even. Arizona had 17 assists, Stanford 16. The Cats had 14 turnovers, Stanford 15. In fact Arizona had more possessions because they had 13 MORE offensive rebounds than Stanford did.

There were two really telling possessions. If something different happens, maybe the Cats pull off the upset. The first saw Arizona cut it to eight when Hassan Adams made a difficult lay-in. The Cats then stole the inbounds pass, but failed to get a shot off when Hernandez stole ball away from Shakur. With 1:25 to play Salim Stoudamire cut the lead to five, but Shakur allowed Hernandez to get behind him and the baseball pass was perfect allowing Hernandez to get the easy lay-in. The Cats would get no closer.

The only good news from the Wildcat loss to Stanford is that Washington lost as well. The Cats may have fallen to an inferior opponent, but they lost no ground on the Huskies. Washington lost to UCLA. Better yet, Oregon State dropped their first game in the league. There were a few positive signs. Both Hassan Adams and Channing Frye had double-doubles. Adams was a decent 8-19 from the field. Not a stellar percentage, but much better than he had been shooting over most of the season. Frye let Rob Little take him out of his game early on, but after starting 1-5, Frye adjusted and went 7-11 the rest of the way.

While the loss may not cost the Wildcats the Pac-10 title, it may spell the end of any realistic hope of the one seed. Sure if the Cats rattle of 14 of their next 15 they'd probably get a one seed, but that doesn't look like it will happen. More than likely the Cats are trying to get a two or a three. There aren't a ton of games the Cats shouldn't win, but you can say the same about Saturday's game.

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