Stanford comes home to battle the Wildcats

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. 

 

Arizona 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 heart.

 

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, Christine.

 

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 season.

 

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

Arizona's (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 practice.

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 injury.

Arizona's Probable Starting Lineup

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 season.

 

 

Player Position Height Weight Year PPG RPG Assists Turnovers
Nic Wise G 5'10" 178 Sophomore 7.4 2.4 65 35
Jerryd Bayless G 6'3" 199 Freshman 19.7 3.3 55 43
Jawann McClellan G 6'4" 204 Senior 8.9 3.9 48 33
Chase Budinger F 6'7" 203 Sophomore 17.1 5.9 48 40
Jordan Hill F 6'10" 226 Sophomore 14.4 8.1 14 33

 

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" cold.

Arizona Notes

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 Hill.

Get production from the back court!
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 tournament.

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 scored 20.

YCF Prediction
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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