Stanford's season had been a tremendous disappointment heading into their home finale, with the Cardinal eliminated from NCAA contention, save for an 11th-hour Pac-10 Tournament rally. Then, the Card down USC, 75-63, Mitch Johnson kisses the logo at half-court, and Mitch, Kenny, Law, and Anthony leave Maples champions.
Okay, the skeptic would say, a senior-laden Stanford was playing in its home finale on Senior Day, USC is one of the conference's most inconsistent teams, and the Cardinal tend to outperform expectations at home, Oregon State excepted.
Then, Stanford went into Tempe as ten-point underdogs. They haven't won on the road all season, ASU won at Maples by 30, with Pendergraph scoring 31. Stanford hadn't signed any bigs in the intervening two months and so the Card were rightfully ten-point underdogs. Then Stanford hands ASU its third straight loss, 74-64, tallying the most points against the Sun Devils any school has had since January. Oh, and Pendergraph was fouled a bajillion (yup, that's exact, I counted) times to make him score from the free throw line, but Stanford, weak in the paint all year, somehow equaled ASU's production. Go figure. The Sun Devils play great defense and James Harden is in the conversation for league MVP – this win isn't so easily explained away.
So maybe it's just fluky, or maybe it took awhile, but Stanford has finally bought into/figured out Johnny Dawkins' system (and vice versa) and is gelling. Cardinal fans aren't picky – the lean years have taught us to take a win any we can get it – but what does Stanford's late-season rally portend for Arizona?
Who knows? We're back to where we started, and I'm left with the worst read on this game as for any matchup I've previewed this season. The Wildcats are the conference's flakiest team, while Stanford is the Pac-10's nine seed playing like a three seed as of late. Stanford won the opener, while Arizona's at home, has more on the line in terms of NCAA and Pac-10 Tournament seeding and is a 6.5-point favorite. The Wildcats' quality bigs – Jordan Hill and Chase Budinger -- figure to exploit Stanford in the paint and on the boards, where the post-Lopez Card have been weakest, but maybe Stanford's onto something new. I'm still wiping the egg off my face from Thursday, and I'm fully aware that I could be doing the same 24 hours from now.
Stanford 76, Arizona 60
Give the Cardinal credit for bouncing back smartly from its season-opening loss, a 30-point shellacking at the hands of ASU, but Arizona really self-destructed, demonstrating to the world what a team with no guard play looks like. Arizona could have had Shaq and Wilt in his prime down low, but the Cats wouldn't have won anyways, not with their guards leading the way to a 5-to-20 assist to turnover ratio and 0-of-8 shooting night from deep. Stanford launched eight extra shots than the Wildcats, largely because of the +6 turnover margin, and the Card's 8-of-22 three-point shooting isn't normally that good – except when it's contrasted with 0-for-8. That's a 24-point swing for Stanford, and that was plenty of margin for the Cardinal to grab their first league win.
Landry Fields led all scorers with 19 points on 7-of-8 shooting (including 2-of-2 deep), grabbed 12 rebounds, five of them offensive, and added three steals for his best game, at least statistically, in a Stanford uniform. Lawrence Hill added 14 points and Anthony Goods scored 13 for Stanford. For Arizona, Jordan Hill was an absolute monster with 17 points and 16 rebounds, guard Nic Wise added 17 points, and Chase Budinger poured in 12.
Jekyll, meet Hyde. The Wildcats' Pac-10 season has played out as follows: win two, lose two, win two, lose three, win six, lose four (and counting). I don't know if the Cats are trying to spell out the Fibonacci sequence with their season results, but there's no mistaking the streakiness – they're practically .500 in the league (8-9, 18-12 overall, squarely on the bubble), but haven't gone win/loss/win or loss/win/loss the entire Pac-10 season. Think the Cats are missing Lute Olsen a little?
Out of conference, the Cats lost to UAB, Texas A&M, and UNLV, all fringe top-50 teams, but beat top-15 Kansas and Gonzaga. In the Pac-10, they swept the Oregons, were swept by ASU and Cal, and, with a win today, will have split against everyone else. (Considering all the chaos in the Wildcats' season results, that's actually amazingly consistent with expectations.) They're currently tied for fifth with USC and Washington State in the Pac-10 standings, and with Oregon State a game behind, the game will have huge implications for the Cats in the final Pac-10 standings.
The Wildcats are currently projected as an 11-seed, with about half the mock brackets updated since the Cats' loss to Cal Thursday including Arizona and half not: http://bracketproject.50webs.com/matrix.htm. Hard to reside more squarely on the bubble than the Wildcats.
Statistically, the Cats are the inverse of the Card, with their perimeter play lagging far behind that of their bigs. Hill (18 points, 11 rebounds, 55 percent overall shooting makes him the only Wildcat to make more than he misses) and Budinger (18 points, seven rebounds, 42 percent deep) are the team's highest scorers and forward Jamelle Horne (seven points) also starts. Nic Wise (15 points, 42 percent deep) torched Stanford last year and is a solid, if undersized guard, but after Wise it's freshmen guards Kyle Fogg (six points) and Garland Judkins (two points), along with sophomore guard Zane Johnson (five points). Salim Stoudamire these guys are not, and Stanford needs to exploit these matchups to counteract Arizona's edges on their home court and in the paint.
I've learned my lesson. I'm sticking with the chalk here, because truly, a 20-point swing in either direction wouldn't shock me. Hey, at least we know when we don't have a clue.
Vegas: Arizona 75, Stanford 68
The Bootleg: Arizona 75, Stanford 68
Predicted: Stanford 65, Arizona State 60 Actual: Arizona State 90, Stanford 60
Predicted: Arizona 69, Stanford 67 Actual: Stanford 76, Arizona 60
Predicted: Washington 78, Stanford 65 Actual: Washington 84, Stanford 83
Predicted: Stanford 57, Wash. State 53 Actual: Wash. State 55, Stanford 54
Predicted: Stanford 76, Cal 72 Actual: Stanford 75, Cal 69
Predicted: Stanford 75, Oregon 65 Actual: Stanford 77, Oregon 55
Predicted: Stanford 75, Oregon State 58 Actual: Oregon State 77, Stanford 62
Predicted: USC 75, Stanford 68 Actual: USC 70, Stanford 69
Predicted: UCLA 78, Stanford 62 Actual: UCLA 97, Stanford 63
Predicted: Stanford 62, WSU 56 Actual: Stanford 65, WSU 54
Predicted: Washington 89, Stanford 76 Actual: Washington 75, Stanford 68
Predicted: Stanford 82, Bakersfield 64 Actual: Stanford 85, Bakersfield 50
Predicted: Cal 85, Stanford 74 Actual: Cal 82, Stanford 75
Predicted: Stanford 74, Oregon State 63 Actual: Oregon State 66, Stanford 54
Predicted: Stanford 80, Oregon 65 Actual: Oregon 68, Stanford 60
Predicted: UCLA 82, Stanford 64 Actual: UCLA 76, Stanford 71
Predicted: USC 79, Stanford 74 Actual: Stanford 75, USC 63
Predicted: Arizona State 72, Stanford 56 Actual: Stanford 74, Arizona State 64
Predicted: Arizona 75, Stanford 68
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