Stanford vs. Arizona, ASU Previews

After a pair of wins in Los Angeles last week, Stanford is ready to play its first home Pac-10 games of the 2006-07 season. The Cardinal welcome Arizona to Maples Pavilion tonight before a showdown Saturday against Arizona State, a meeting of two Top 15 teams. At the forefront of fans' attention is the return to action of Stanford junior Candice Wiggins, but these opponents merit attention.

Over the last two games…

The Arizona Wildcats and the Arizona State Sun Devils come to Maples Pavilion this week, to face off with the Stanford Cardinal in women's basketball.  Here is a preview of these upcoming teams and games.

Arizona (6-7, 0-1) is in the midst of a two-game losing streak, dropping a winnable game, 60-69, against Fresno State and getting blown out 62-89 by Arizona State.  In these last two games, the Wildcats shot 37% from the field and made just 19% of their three-pointers, while allowing their opponents to make 45% of their field goals.  With 4:50 left to play against Fresno State, Arizona let a four-point lead vaporize by missing their final 11 shots, allowing the Bulldogs to win the game with a 13-0 run.  The Wildcats never had a chance against ASU, as they never led in the game and were down by 31 points at one point in the second half.

Arizona's star player is #45, senior Joy Hollingsworth, a 41% shooter who averages 16.1 points per game.  Hollingsworth, a 5'9" guard, is also their second-ranked rebounder, averaging 6.2 rebounds per game.  Mastering the glass for the Wildcats is #32, sophomore Amina Njonkou, who pulls down 6.6 rebounds per game.  Njonkou, a 6'1" forward, pulled down 20 rebounds during the previous two games.  Bringing the ball down for Arizona is #12, junior Ashley Whisonant, who earned 14 assists with six turnovers in the last two games.  Whisonant is a 5'8" guard, who has a 1.3 assist/turnover ratio on the season.  The Arizona Wildcats website, ArizonaAthletics.com, hopes for the best in this Bay Area road trip with this statement from their women's basketball page, "Wildcats are 12-3 under head coach Joan Bonvicini in games following Christmas."

10th-ranked Arizona State (11-1, 1-0) is enjoying a seven-game winning streak, losing only to then fifth-ranked Tennessee.  They have not faced a ranked opponent during this streak, until the next 72 hours, when they face 18th-ranked California and 14th-ranked Stanford.  The Sun Devils performed well in the their last two games, winning a rain-shortened outdoor game against Texas Tech, 61-45, and blowing out rival Arizona, 89-63.  In their past two games, Arizona State shot well from the field with a 48% field goal average and have not had a player log more than 23 minutes in a game.  Against Arizona, 10 of 13 players had over 15 minutes; this "hockey line" approach of coach Charli Turner Thorne keeps players fresh but requires a balanced team and a productive bench.

Arizona State has an amazing six players (three starters, three off the bench) with over 100 points on the season (Emily Westerberg - 152, Danielle Orsillo - 139, Dymond Simon - 113, Jill Noe - 109, Briann January - 104 and Kirsten Thompson - 103).  #4 Emily Westerberg, a senior forward, is the team leader in points and free throws.   #22 Jill Noe, a 5'10" senior guard, is the team sharpshooter, knocking down 56% of her three-point bombs.  #20 Briann January, a 5'8" sophomore guard is the Sun Devils' thief, averaging 2.3 steals per game.  The Sun Devils have six players with 15 assists or more that have a better than 1:1 assist to turnover ratio (Reagan Pariseau - 2.6, January - 2.3, Kate Engelbrecht - 1.9, Orsillo - 1.3, and Simon/Noe - 1.1 each).  This means that no matter what "line" an opponent is facing, the Sun Devils are holding onto the ball.  In fact, Arizona State is averaging 21.0 assists per game, the best in the country in that statistical category.

14th-ranked Stanford is rolling, with five consecutive wins, including a road sweep of the Los Angeles schools.  The Cardinal won decisively against USC, 62-46, and survived UCLA and the referees, 68-59.  During the two-game road trip against the L.A. teams - and without Candice Wiggins, who sat on the bench resting a hamstring injury - the Cardinal shot 47% from the field but could only muster 50% from the free throw line.  Stanford made six of only eight free throw attempts against UCLA.  Stanford's offensive rebounding was poor (0.45 offensive rebounds for every opponent defensive rebound), but were glass-eaters on the defensive end (2:1 defensive to opponent offensive rebound ratio).  The Cardinal had their opponents' offense on lock-down, allowing only 33% shooting and forcing 17.0 turnovers per game at USC and UCLA.

Stanford's superstar is #11 Candice Wiggins, a 5'11.5" junior guard, who is averaging 16.4 points per game.  While Wiggins was sidelined during the two-game L.A. road trip, Stanford needed other players to step up and have career games, and several players answered.  #30 Brooke Smith, a 6'3" fifth-year senior center/forward, and #33 Jillian Harmon, a 6'1" sophomore forward, both averaged 13.5 points per game.  #10 JJ Hones, a 5'10" freshman point guard, averaged 11 points per game, markedly improved from her season average of 4.3 ppg.  #43 Kristen Newlin, a 6'5" senior forward/center, accounted for seven rebounds per game while averaging 26 minutes per game.  In addition to her two games of a career-high 11 points, Hones sported a 3.0 assist/turnover ratio, including a four-assist, zero-turnover effort against USC.  Equally noteworthy in assisting was Smith, who also recorded a 3.0 assist/turnover ratio during the road swing, including a monster seven-assist, two-turnover explosion against USC.  Smith's latest "A/T-R" has been a big improvement, and a big factor in winning, since the beginning of the season.

Stanford's Keys to the Game…

Against Arizona, Stanford will need to limit Hollingsworth's looks at the basket and continue its pressure defense.  Arizona does not match Stanford's size and skill, so staying rested and healthy, and getting valuable bench minutes, will be the key to winning against Arizona, and…

Arizona State.  At the risk of looking past Arizona to Arizona State, it would behoove Stanford to stay rested and healthy against Arizona, while ASU gets worn down by #18th-ranked California.  Stanford will have to contend with a constant rotation of players, without being able to key on just one or two players on Saturday.  Against the top assisting team in the land, Stanford will have to block ASU's passing lanes and force turnovers, while protecting the ball on their own possessions.  Stanford cannot afford to have Newlin, Smith, or #2 Jayne Appel, a 6'4" freshman center/forward, in foul trouble.  The Cardinal will have to continue success on the defensive boards and take back control of the offensive boards.

Things to look for…

  • Four- and five-player substitutions from Arizona State.
  • Stanford freethrow success.
  • Candice Wiggins' return against Arizona, and maybe a starting role against ASU.
  • Coach Bonvicini's post-Christmas game record to fall to 12-4.

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