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To make matters worse, the Pac-10's leading scorer, Casey Jacobsen, went ice cold from behind the arc and Stanford lost by 19 to USC and a very misleading three point margin to UCLA.
I'll tell you something right now, though. It doesn't matter. Not when Stanford and Arizona hook up with the conference championship at stake on the regular season's final weekend. Whatever problems the Cardinal had last week will be masked when it takes the floor at McKale Center Thursday night. These two teams bring out the best in each other everytime they play.
If this game is even half as exciting as the first meeting in Palo Alto, the Wildcat fans in attendance are in for quite a show.
In the first game, it was Wildcat freshman center Channing Frye who led Arizona to an 88-82 overtime victory on Stanford's trampoline, I mean home floor. Frye hit 10-13 shots from the field and scored a career-high 22 points to go along with 10 rebounds. Arizona needed every point and rebound to offset the brilliance of Stanford big man Curtis Borchardt, who had the game of his life with 25 points and 21 rebounds.
For Arizona to pull off the season sweep against the Cardinal, it will need more of the same out of Frye, not to mention help from Ricky Anderson, Isaiah Fox and Dennis Latimore. It's not going to be a one-man effort to stop Borchardt, it's going to take some reinforcements.
Depending upon who comes out ahead in total rebounds this week in practice, it could be Fox who gets his second straight start in the post in place of Frye. In the intrasquad scrimmage the other day, Fox had 17 boards to Frye's 14. Not bad for either but, unless they come relatively close to matching those totals Thursday night, Borchardt might once again dominate the boards.
This is a game where the improvement of Latimore couldn't be more helpful. The most physically mature of any Wildcat freshman post player in recent memory (maybe ever), Latimore has the muscle to bang with Borchardt or Teyo Johnson under the glass.
The freshman from Halstead, Kansas looked much, much better against ASU with a nice drop step and turnarounds for baskets on the low block. Latimore is obviously capable enough to be a tremendous rebounder but until he earns the right for more playing time, he might not get that chance to really break out. It's been over four months since practice began and great strides have been made by freshmen Salim Stoudamire, Frye and even Fox. It's probably about time for Latimore and Will Bynum to be a little more consistent.
Keys to the Game:
*Arizona must do a better job on the defensive glass.
-USC, UCLA and even ASU had far too many second and third chances after missed shots against the Wildcats. That just cannot happen against Stanford, particularly because Borchardt is so long that he could make a living off of simple tip-ins all night underneath. For Arizona to improve in that area, it will take continued strong performances from Rick Anderson, Luke Walton and added help from the aforementioned trio of Fox, Frye and Latimore. Arizona's defense has improved so much lately that as long as it can rebound well, slowing teams down shouldn't be as much of a problem as it was even a month and a half ago.
*Get Borchardt away from the hoop like he was at Stanford.
-Frye had his best game in an Arizona uniform the first time around because he was successful with 12-15-foot shots that forced Borchardt out from under the basket to put a hand in his face. Although it is not likely that Frye will duplicate his 10-13 shooting, it is still very likely that either he or Fox will step out for some mid-range jumpers once again. Jason Gardner was the beneficiary of Borchardt's absence from the lane because he blew past the Cardinal's ineffective point guard tandem of Tony Giovacchini and Chris Hernandez for lay-ups and easy scores in the second half. That needs to happen again.
*Ricky Anderson and Salim Stoudamire need to hit their open looks.
-This is not really a problem for Salim, who is hitting over 50% from the floor and from three-point range over the last 18 games, but Ricky has had some trouble finishing around the hole. At USC he missed several shots from within five feet and that can probably be chalked up to the "Sam Clancy Syndrome", which is a painful ailment suffered by players who fear getting basketballs spiked back in their faces by superior athletes. Anderson is such a crafty scorer with his pump fakes, up and unders, baby-hooks and turnaround jumpers that it shouldn't really be a problem for him to get his defender in foul trouble every game. He might want to utilize some of those moves down low against Johnson and Borchardt to get them out of the game early. The important thing will be making the shots he should make. He just has to be a better finisher.
*Jason Gardner's shot must resurface.
-If he's on, Stanford and Cal really don't have much of a chance this weekend, especially considering the fact that it's at home in McKale where the Wildcats have proven that no deficit is too large to overcome. By now, however, it's about time to make a habit out of playing well with the lead and expanding upon it. Gardner's shot can affect the outcome of a game so much so that I'm going to begin doing a new format for my predictions of each game. See below.
Gardner's shot is "on": Arizona 93-79
Gardner's shot is "off": Arizona 84-82
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