It now appears that the only way Stanford can be invited to college basketball's biggest party will be to crash it. Before that, the Cardinal hope to spoil Saturday's Senior Day party in Tucson.
Stanford (18-11, 9-8; RPI #64) has not beaten Arizona in its last ten tries. No one has beaten the Wildcats at McKale Center in 37 straight games, the longest home winning streak in the country. The Card try to end both streaks with a 1:00 p.m. Pacific tipoff.
Bearing anyone has been a struggle for the Cardinal of late. Their 67-62 loss at Arizona State on Thursday was their sixth in their last nine games. Stanford sputtered to a 14-point halftime deficit, tied it in the second half, but couldn’t grasp control of the game when it mattered most.
Freshman forward Michael Humphrey’s Phoenix homecoming lasted just four minutes. Early in the game, Humphrey sprained an ankle while guarding Tra Holder’s layup. Humphrey was slated to be evaluated after Friday night’s practice, his status for the Arizona game and possibly the Pac-12 Tournament were unknown.
Stanford has been on a downward trend, but Arizona (27-3, 15-2; AP #5) has plateaued. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, because the Wildcats have played at a consistently high level all year. A near-unanimous pick atop the Pac-12 preseason media poll (a lone vote went to UCLA), the Wildcats have not disappointed. Aside from a two-point loss at Oregon State and a three-point loss at Arizona State, the Pac-12 has not been much of a match for Arizona.
The Wildcats are on a seven-game winning streak. On Thursday night, they dismissed California, 99-60. A visit to Utah was Arizona’s biggest test, and the Wildcats outlasted and overtook the Utes for a 63-57 win. Outside of that relatively close call, Arizona’s average margin of victory during their winning streak is over 26 points.
Arizona took round one against Stanford with an 89-82 win at Maples Pavilion on January 22. Chasson Randle led with 26 points, and Anthony Brown scored 18 points and grabbed nine rebounds. But the Card couldn’t seal a second-half lead and picked the wrong times to suffer defensive lapses and come up empty on offense. Sound familiar?
Sophomore forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson left the game early on Thursday, apparently victim to a shoulder injury. Afterwards, Wildcats head coach Sean Miller said Hollis-Jefferson was fine and called it a scare. Sure enough, Hollis-Jefferson is still listed among Arizona’s probable starters. With 11.1 points per game, 6.5 rebounds per game, a 52% field goal-shooting rate, and his twerking free-throw shooting motion, Hollis-Jefferson has become an Arizona fan favorite and a pain in his opponents’ sides.
Hollis-Jefferson was a key factor against Stanford the first time around. Freshman forward Stanley Johnson was another. He dropped 19 points and seven boards on the Cardinal that night, representative of a typical game for the Pac-12’s leading freshman scorer. Defensively, he has been prone to occasional lapses, but much of that is due to youth, not a lack of skill.
Junior forward Brandon Ashley (11.5 points per game), junior center Kaleb Tarczewski, and junior guard T.J. McConnell (6.1 assists per game) round out the rest of Arizona’s probable starting lineup. Junior guard Gabe York is averaging nearly 23 minutes per game off the bench, and seems good for at least one big shot per night.
One of the few things at stake in this game is Stanford’s seeding in next week’s Pac-12 Tournament. A win over Arizona (or an Arizona State loss to Cal) puts Stanford as the No. 5 seed, setting up a Wednesday afternoon matchup with No. 12 seed USC. A Stanford loss and an Arizona State win mean the Cardinal would be the No. 6 seed, drawing a Wednesday evening game against No. 11 seed Washington State.********** ********** **********
Are you fully subscribed to The Bootleg? If not, then you are missing out on all the top Cardinal coverage we provide daily on our award-winning website. Sign up today for the biggest and best in Stanford sports coverage with TheBootleg.com (sign-up)!