Gone from last year (when Arizona and Stanford split the season series, each winning on the other's home court) are a total of eight starters from both clubs. Stanford was ranked number one in the nation for most of the year and Arizona wound up playing for the national championship in the season's final game. After the season ended however, both Arizona and Stanford suffered severe personnel losses.
The Cardinal lost center Jason Collins to early entry into the NBA and lost point guard Mike McDonald, guard Ryan Mendez and forward Jarron Collins to graduation. Arizona was hit even harder. The national runner-up Wildcats lost Gilbert Arenas, Michael Wright and Richard Jefferson prematurely to the NBA while also losing Loren Woods, Gene Edgerson and Justin Wessel to graduation.
However, the more things change the more things stay the same. Arizona and Stanford are still ranked nationally, are both still serious contenders for the conference title and both have the kind of talent that can take them deep in the NCAA Tournament come March.
Saturday's game figures to be another epic in this somewhat-friendly (or at least respectful) rivalry.
PG-Jason Gardner (5-10, 185 Jr.) vs. Tony Giovacchini (6-2, 180 Sr.)
*Gardner is the more athletic lead guard and is much more of a factor on the offensive end than the reliable but unspectacular Giovacchini is. The best thing about the Cardinal senior is that he rarely makes a mistake and has a good assist-to-turnover ratio. Gardner has started off slowly in the past few games and in order for Arizona to be successful in Maples Pavilion, it will need Gardner to come out of the blocks at full speed.
-EDGE: Gardner (Arizona)
SG-Salim Stoudamire (6-1, 180 Fr.) vs. Julius Barnes (6-1, 180 Jr.)
*Barnes is probably Stanford's most improved and athletic player. He has been very effective both shooting and driving the ball this year and has been very hot of late. Against ASU he scored 18 points on 6-8 shooting and played good defense as well. Stoudamire will be a great test for Barnes because of his shooting ability and defensive intensity. This is a very close match-up but with Barnes being at home, one would have to think the edge would be slightly in his favor over the less-experienced Wildcat freshman.
-EDGE: Barnes (Stanford) slightly. SF-Luke Walton (6-8, 235 Jr.) vs. Casey Jacobsen (6-6, 210 Jr.)
* There aren't very many players in America that can match-up with the All-American sharpshooter Jacobsen. Walton will certainly have his work cut out for him defensively. Jacobsen lit ASU up to the tune of 49 points on Thursday night and although it is highly unlikely that he'll be that hot against Arizona, he is still more than capable of scoring 25-30 points on any given night. "I'd say his confidence is at an all-time high," Arizona assistant coach Jay John said. Olson said that either Walton or Stoudamire will be assigned to Jacobsen but since Stanford runs a lot of things where there may be some switching, it could be anybody on him at times. To illustrate just how locked in Jacobsen was against ASU, take into consideration that he made 14-22 shots (6-10 on threes) and then topped it off by going 15-17 from the free throw line. Oh yeah, 31 of his 49 came in the second half. That's explosive. Fortunately for Arizona, Luke Walton is a match-up nightmare in his own right. Expect Walton to post Jacobsen up offensively and use his brilliant all-around game to keep this match-up a close one.
PF-Rick Anderson (6-9, 220 Jr.) vs. Justin Davis (6-8, 230 Soph.)
*Anderson really stepped his game up Thursday night at Cal, playing with a style that was, according to Olson, "very live". He hit the board with a purpose and shot the ball well from outside en route to winning player of the game honors with 16 points and 13 rebounds. "As you can see with Ricky, we've got to get him some more open looks from three (point range)," Olson said. Matching up against the ultra athletic Davis will be tough for Anderson, however. Though he is not much of a scoring threat with the ball in his hands, Davis is very effective on the offensive glass for easy scores off put-backs and tip-ins or follow-dunks. He has the tenacity to attack the boards on defense as well. Anderson, when playing with intensity, is a very, very good player and it is safe to assume that playing at Stanford will fan the flames of his fire, so-to-speak.
-EDGE: Anderson (Arizona)
C-Channing Frye (6-10, 225 Fr.) vs. Curtis Borchardt (7-0, 230 Jr.)
*Stopping Borchardt (or at least containing him) will be a huge factor in determining whether or not Arizona can come out of the Bay with a sweep. Borchardt has been outstanding for Stanford this year, averaging around 16 points, 10 rebounds and two blocks per game. Frye will have to pressure Borchardt on the low blocks from the onset and keep him from shooting threes at the top of the key as well. "On the threes that he's hit it's been a case of people just backing off of him defensively," Olson said. "You can't do that. There have been times where his man is inside the free throw line while he's shooting the three and you just cannot do that. You could do that with the Collins twins but you can't against Borchardt." Frye is also pretty effective shooting from longer range but the key to this match-up will be avoiding foul trouble, controlling the low blocks and altering shots under the basket defensively. As of now Borchardt is the Pac-10's best big man. Frye will earn that distinction with time.
-EDGE: Borchardt (Stanford)
What to expect on Saturday night:
*Arizona will use a mixture of its 3-2 zone and some on-the-ball pressure man defense. Against Cal, using a zone was the smart thing to do because the Bears are simply a bad outside shooting team. Stanford, with Jacobsen, Barnes and backup wing forward Josh Childress, is not. "We don't want to give them too many full court opportunities," Olson said, when stating why he won't use the full-court press more often. "Barnes is really quick and you don't want Jacobsen spotting up for threes either."
*Stanford's bench to out-play Arizona's. Neither team can claim a deep or experienced bench but with Cardinal freshman Josh Childress coming off the bench, it really provides a spark for Stanford offensively. "Childress has two unbelievable games in L.A. (last week)," Olson said. "He can be a big scoring factor for them." Unless the Wildcats can get fellow freshman Will Bynum to step up his play, Childress might be the Cardinal x-factor in determining the outcome.
*Yet another close and memorable game between these two great Pac-10 teams. Stopping Walton and Gardner might be unrealistic for Stanford but the same thing can be said for Arizona stopping Jacobsen and Borchardt. Other than those four guys, the other six players on the floor will decide who wins and loses this game. Stanford being at home sways me to believe that Arizona only comes out of the Bay with a split. Not too bad considering the alternative if it had lost to Cal.
Arizona is improving, but…
Predicition: Stanford 83, Arizona 77.