TheBootleg.com's Jon Forbes, Jr. (aka "YCF") offers up a preview of Thursday's matchup with the Wildcats. Stanford is looking to rebound after a disappointing 71-66 loss in Eugene on Sunday. The Cardinal will face an Arizona team which has struggled of late, but now have freshman point guard Jerryd Bayless back in time for this crucial Pac-10 game.
The Stanford Cardinal (13-3,
2-2) will try end a six game skid to their desert rivals when they host the
Arizona Wildcats (11-5, 1-2) Thursday night at Maples Pavilion.
The two programs once
dominated the Pac-10, combining to win all but one regular season title from
1998 through 2005. Stanford won Pac-10 titles in 1999, 2000, 2001, and 2004,
while Arizona was the conference's top
team in 1998, 2003, and 2005. The lone exception came in 2002, when
Oregon proved best.
Both Stanford and
Arizona have been mired in
mediocrity since winning their latest conference title. Stanford finished fourth in 2005, fifth
in 2006, and sixth in 2007.
Meanwhile, Arizona finished
fourth in 2006 and fifth in 2007.
But why have the Stanford and
Arizona programs declined?
Stanford is a modest 34-24 in conference play since Trent Johnson became head
coach, but he can't be blamed for Mike Montgomery's shortcomings in recruiting
in his final years on The Farm.
generates hype every season but chronically fails to meet expectations. Implying
that coaching could be the problem is grounds for my comrades at the U of A to
declare a fatwa on me since
head coach Lute Olson (who is on a leave of absence, which will be detailed
later) is revered in Tucson. But
I'll go ahead and say it since I'm a Wildcat in name but a Cardinalmaniac™ at
Olson's leave of absence,
announced before the team's pre-season exhibition game vs. Concordia, has
created a soap opera. The iconic coach cited "personal reasons" for his decision
but stressed it wasn't a health issue. On December 6, he announced he'd miss the
entire 2007-2008 season and filed for divorce from his wife of four years,
Assistant coach Kevin O'Neill
became Olson's interim replacement and will become
Arizona's head coach upon Olson's
retirement, whenever that may come. Olson plans to return to the helm next
In the long run, Olson's
absence may have been beneficial for
Arizona since it forced the school
to name a successor (if he doesn't return or for when he eventually retires).
And it's the humble opinion of this writer that Olson lacked control over the
team in recent years, leading to inconsistency and a lack of fundamentals.
The Season to Date
(78-67) comeback victory over Texas A&M (now ranked #10) highlights the
Wildcats' season. Freshman guard Jerryd "At Least I'm Not Skip" Bayless buoyed
the Wildcats with 26 points vs. the Aggies.
The Wildcats stood at 9-2, with close losses to
Virginia (75-72) and #3 Kansas (76-72), as they prepared for their game against #2
Memphis. However, they were dealt a crushing a blow when
Bayless, the team's leading scorer, suffered a sprained right knee during
Bayless missed the Memphis game, which Arizona lost 76-63, and the next three contests. During that
stretch, Arizona went 1-3, cruising past
Oregon State but suffering losses to
Oregon and Arizona
State in addition to Memphis.
With Bayless back in the lineup for their latest
game, Arizona handily defeated Houston 85-71. He wasted no time returning to form, scoring 33
points and adding nine assists. The Stanford backcourt, which struggled against
Oregon's four guard lineup, will face a stern challenge from
Bayless, even if he hasn't recovered completely from his
Arizona features a young starting lineup, with only one
upperclassman, Jawann "General George" McClellan. Bayless, Chase Budinger, and
Jordan Hill account for 62.2% of the Wildcats' points this
Coach O'Neill has been slow to give additional playing
time to reserve Kirk Walters, a fifth-year senior 6'11 center and former
starter. Walters received a medical redshirt last season due to mononucleosis.
In addition, he missed the first month of this season's practice due to a
concussion. Walters has played in just seven games this year and has missed the
latest four games.
According to Wildcat Insider,
Arizona's sister site to TheBootleg,com, Walters will play on
this road trip. Walters' return is timely for the Wildcats because reserve
center Bret Brielmaier will likely not play against Stanford or Cal due to
injury. In addition, starting forward Jordan Hill rolled his ankle vs.
Houston and missed Monday and Tuesday practice. Finally, Chase
Budinger has been battling by a "lingering"
Nic Wise is a selective
shooter and has made 40-92 (43.5%) shots from the field 15-37 (40.5%) attempts
for three. Wise is comparable to Mike McDonald because his first intention is to
set up shots for his teammates but is a capable marksman when needed. He leads
the team with 28 steals.
Jerryd Bayless has gone 70-146 (47.9%) from the
field and leads the team in three point percentage at 24-55 (43.6%). He also
leads the team in free throws attempted (86) and free throw percentage (83.7%).
Arizona is 10-2 when he has played and is 1-3 when he sat out
due to injury.
Jawann McClellan leads the guards in minutes played with
554 and played the entire 40 minutes against Houston. McClellan has shot 49-109 (45.0%) from the field and
11-36 (30.6%) for three.
Chase Budinger is not flashy but gives
opponents headaches with his versatility. He can battle down low or shoot from
outside. He rarely gets rest, a trend certain to continue with
Arizona's injury problems and lack of depth. Budinger is 97-217
(44.7%) from the field and 33-88 (37.5%) for three.
Jordan Hill is the
power forward, scoring exclusively on the inside. If Stanford focuses too much
attention on Budinger, Hill could victimize them down low. Hill leads the team
in field goal percentage at 94-148 (63.5%).
Keys to the Game
Use height and
depth to wear down the Cats
Arizona does not have a deep roster and injuries and illness
haven't helped the problem. Brook Lopez, Robin Lopez, Taj Finger, Fred Washington, and Lawrence Hill can work together to wear down Budinger and
Get production from the back
Against Oregon, Stanford's guards (starters and bench players) scored a
dismal 12 points on 4-12 shooting. A minimal improvement in back court offense
would have been enough to give Stanford the victory. The front court alone can't
get it done in conference play.
Kibbles and Bits
Stanford has beat
Arizona just once since the Miracle at Maples in 2004. The
Cardinal edged the Cats 87-76 in their next game against each other following
Nick Robinson's buzzer beater but are 0-6 since.
Arizona defeated Stanford 85-80 in overtime the last time they
met. The second game of the current streak was also an overtime loss for the
Cardinal. The streak includes Arizona's 73-68 victory in the first round of the Pac-10
Kenny Brown, filling in for Mitch Johnson who played
sparingly due to food poisoning, led Stanford in scoring with 22 points the last
time the Cards and Cats met. Brook Lopez added 21 points while Lawrence Hill
Arizona takes an early lead and has a 32-26 advantage at
halftime. Stanford does not panic and claws back in the second half by scoring
points in the paint. Regulation ends with a 67-67 tie. Fouls and fatigue combine
to exhaust Arizona and Stanford prevails 81-75 for another thrilling
renewal of the rivalry between the Cards and Cats.
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