Arizona Preview

ASU was tough. The LA schools proved game last week on the road. But for several weeks now, you've been looking forward to this Saturday's colossal clash between the rising Cardinal tide and the top-ranked Wildcats. Two of Stanford's three all-time wins against #1 ranked teams have come against Arizona. Will Saturday be a third? Or will the Cats grab their fourth straight win at Maples?

You don't need in-depth scouting from this Bootleg preview to tell you that Arizona is a phenomenal team.  We've all heard that this is their deepest and most dangerous team, maybe ever.  Their #1 national ranking hangs over the Pac-10 like lamb's blood, and they have torn through every visiting arena roughshod this year.  While every other team in the conference has picked up at least three road losses in conference play, Arizona is a perfect 8-0.  They lead the conference in scoring at better than 86 per game, while Stanford has hit that mark only twice this year (interestingly, though, in the last two games).  The 'Cats aren't just a fast-paced up-and-down-the-floor team who runs opponents ragged; they also lead the conference in rebounding by a solid margin at better than 43 boards per game. They also lead the conference in field goal percentage defense, to boot!  They start three or four players who might be drafted by the NBA this summer, and bring a burgeoning group of young future stars off the bench.  Their average margin of victory in the last three weeks is 24 points per game, with everything seemingly coming together at just the right time.

When Arizona faced Stanford the last go-around, there was arguably a lack of focus on the part of the Wildcat hosts.  They had just come off a very celebrated and improbable comeback win at Lawrence in beating Kansas, while Stanford was perceived as a team that had slipped back into a lesser competitive status out West.  The Arizona players were mired in the Candygate scandal as well.  The Card surprised Lute Olsen and his squad by coming out hot on offense, and handling Arizona's fullcourt pressure with ease.  Moreover, Stanford was finding transition buckets off that press.  The Cardinal ran a good deal of motion offense, and got a lot of good looks.  The 'Cats made one of their patented torrential runs to open the second half, but Stanford withstood the heat and held court late in the game.

Though this is rarely the case when Lute Olsen crafts his plans against the Cardinal, Stanford was able to handle most of what was defensively thrown at them.  Jason Gardner was put on Matt Lottich, though with his size Lottich was able to easily get shots off and hit for 23.  Olsen went with Isaiah Fox at the starting center spot, to deal with the physical Cardinal, but was instead manhandled by Rob Little on both ends in one of his top career performances.  Role players for Stanford who should have no business competing against the likes of the mighty Wildcats - well, they connected.  Nick Robinson, Matt Haryasz and Dan Grunfeld combined for 7-of-10 shooting.  We don't know quite what to expect from White-headed One in this rematch, but it does appear that Stanford can still matchup pretty well at most positions...

The Starters

#22 PG Jason Gardner Sr 5-10 185 14.6 ppg 5.2 apg 35.0% 3FG
#20 SG Salim Stoudamire So 6-1 180 13.1 ppg 1.9 apg 47.4% 3FG
#4 SF Luke Walton Sr* 6-8 241 10.2 ppg 5.1 rpg 44.9% 3FG
#33 PF Rick Anderson Sr* 6-9 225 10.3 ppg 6.1 rpg 56.7% FG
#45 C Channing Frye So 6-11 235 11.8 ppg 7.5 rpg 59.2% FG

* denotes redshirt year taken

Jason Gardner is enjoying a year of great team success and individual scoring and assists, but his shooting percentages are awfully close to those of Julius Barnes, who Stanford fans know has struggled with percentages until recently.  He has become a more controlled, and certainly a stronger player, this year.  And like Barnes he can be a deceptively valuable rebounder from the point guard position (currently averaging 4.0 per game).  Barnes has defended well this year, and I wouldn't be surprised if he can force Gardner into another game like he had in January in Tucson.  Sure, the senior 'Cat had 22 points, but he did it on 7-of-16 shooting including 3-of-11 from outside.  Despite his quickness and handle, Gardner has done his best damage from outside this year.  More than 43% of his points have come from three-point range, even though he shoots a very average clip from there.  Sound familiar?  Still, watch to see if this Indianapolis native gets hot from outside.  Arizona puts their nastiest streaks on when Gardner and Walton start hitting from outside, and Gardner has a particular knack for nailing quick shots from that range in transition, which can raise the pace and pressure in an alarming hurry.

It was Stoudamire who spurred the big comeback run against Kansas that handed Arizona their most impressive and storied win of the year, and Thursday night it was again this sharpshooting sophomore who sparked the early lead at Haas Pavilion.  He hit all four of this three-point attempts in the first six minutes of the game, though he then had to sit after he picked up his second foul shortly thereafter.  It was a pair of early fouls in Tucson that kept Stoudamire on the bench, and when he returned he found surprisingly good man defense from Stanford that shut him down.  It's hard to imagine this savvy and talented of a scorer being shut down a second time this year by the Cardinal, but I think Matt Lottich will present a tough challenge.  Lottich's defense has come a long way, though watch for Stoudamire's quick release off screens and in catch-and-shoot situations.  Picked up 20 points Thursday night in Berkeley.

Luke Walton might be one of the more overhyped players in America, including 3.0 TOs per game to go with his oft-quoted assist numbers, and a 43.6% shooting percentage from the field to go with his gaudy three-point numbers.  But the fact remains that he is hitting outside at a great clip, and his play has improved as he has gotten healthy in recent weeks.  Most observers would tell you that Arizona's rise has come in tandem with Walton's progress.  The offense doesn't run through him quite as much as was made out last year, but he plays a big part because he drives the lane and can make things happen almost every time.  He can score, but more often draws defenses and then dishes to a lethal Wildcat teammate.  In the previous meeting at McKale, Walton gave a pair of early fouls to Josh Childress because of his drives, and that presents a problem again Saturday.  Childress has a huge challenge in defending a versatile player like Walton who can hurt Stanford from outside, but also do so much damage going to the basket.  Watch for Nick Robinson to come off the bench early in this game if Walton is causing problems, or puts Childress in foul trouble.  And though it seems like a crazy strategy, watch for Childress and Stanford to dare Walton to take those outside shots.  I think there may be a greater fear of what he can do off the dribble, which is where the defense may stress.

Rick Anderson didn't do much last time against Stanford, and the betting money is that with all of Arizona's other weapons on the floor, Stanford will cheat off Anderson as much as anybody you can in this game.  Still, this redshirt senior has quietly put up good numbers scoring, rebounding and shooting away from the basket.  He has a nice touch from the high post, but unless he is willing to put it on the floor, he shouldn't be able to put Justin Davis in foul trouble.  How far out will Davis go to guard him, though?  Anderson has touch out to the three-point line, and he takes at least a couple from that range each game.

Frye is the player with the greatest shooting star these days, after what seemed to be a middling season of some disappointment.  Last summer and early fall, the buzz out of the desert was that this sophomore star was developing at a pace that would send him to the NBA after this second season in college.  Only in the past few weeks has the light come on for the Phoenix native.  If he plays Saturday like he has done of late, watch out.  He is attacking the basket, hitting his midrange shots facing the basket and pivoting in the paint with agility and quickness to beat big defenders with his back to the basket.  Rebounding and blocked shots galore, to boot.  He is simply dominant right now.  Stanford presents some dangerous matchups for Frye, though.  Rob Little plays big and physical and that bothered his Arizona sophomore counterpart when the played earlier this season, when Frye had just nine points on 4-of-10 shooting.  Little is always a question mark to stay in games (foul trouble), though, so look for Matt Haryasz to provide some very key minutes.  Haryasz, also an Arizona native, played a standout game in Tucson, hitting 2-of-3 shots and pulling down four big boards.  I think he matches up reasonably well against Frye, though watch the savvy sophomore pull the Stanford freshman off the floor with a couple pump fakes, and then drive on him or draw an easy shooting foul.

The Bench

#24 SF Andre Iguodala Fr 6-6 210 6.9 ppg 3.9 rpg 38.0% FG
#21 SG Hassan Adams Fr 6-4 205 9.6 ppg 3.7 rpg 46.5% FG
#2 PF/C Isaiah Fox So 6-9 259 4.6 ppg 3.9 rpg 57.7% FG
#13 G Chris Rodgers Fr 6-4 190 2.6 ppg 1.2 apg 24.5% FG

This is an athletic bench, and it's the depth of this team that has earned so many accolades for the 'Cats this year.  But closer inspection shows that the percentages from the field for the freshman trio of Iguodala, Adams and Rodgers are uninspiring.  Though all three ought to be able to score from outside, as their starting counterparts (Gardner, Stoudamire and Walton) are so adept in doing, the bench trio are weak outside.  Iguodala has hit just eight treys this year (22%); Adams has hit just six (20%); and Rodgers has hit three (21%).  They are athletic and can beat their defenders off the dribble, but that's where Stanford's defense has to focus.  Play off these guys and make them take perimeter shots.

Make no mistake, though, that Iguodala and Adams are impact players.  Andre Iguodala is a lock-down defender with length and quickness that can pressure the ball without giving up dribble-drives.  On offense, he is a slasher with the ball and is even more impressive moving without the ball.  When he and Gardner are on the floor at the same time, watch for Iguodala cutting to the basket and Gardner hitting him in stride.  Also a great leaper and active player who can pull down big offensive boards.  His per-40 minute stats on the offensive glass would rank third on Stanford's roster, and even then just a hair behind Rob Little for second.  This for a 6'6" wing player.  Strong, developed looking body on this kid, and I wouldn't be surprised if he emerges as one of the best players in the conference next year.

Hassan Adams is a talented scorer who can create his shot and score from several spots on the floor, but he is feeling a little bit of the squeeze that is endemic to Arizona basketball these days.  Though he picked up five starts earlier in the year, his minutes are dwindling, as are his shot attempts.  He is slightly satiated with some good scoring outputs in some of Zona's recent blowout wins.  But as a McDonald's All-American, he isn't happy about eight total points over the last three games, and that on just six total field goal attempts over those games.  Will he play frustrated at Maples on Saturday, or will he play loose?  Adams is versatile enough to sub for Stoudamire or Gardner and play either guard spot.  Like Iguodala, also a good defender.

Because Adams has shown that he can give Gardner a breather at the point, Chris Rodgers has felt a squeeze and seen his role as the top reserve point guard fade away.  Gardner is indeed playing Julius Barnes minutes these days, but Adams has seen just three total minutes of play in the last two games.  Very quick and a good defender.  Will Lute Olsen bring him off the bench for the minutes that Jason Haas plays?  If so, watch that matchup.

Isaiah Fox is a big and physical kid who sometimes gets forgotten when you look at a deep and talented squad like this.  But Fox was the one who started at center the last time these teams met, over the then-slumping Channing Frye.  While Frye is a skilled player, Fox is a contrast in his versatility with the ball and distance he can play from the basket on offense.  By analogy, I would say he is to Frye as Rob Little is to Matt Haryasz, though Haryasz certainly has a long way to go to display the productivity with this skills like Frye has done.  Returning to the last time these teams faced off, Fox started but scored just two points and pulled down just three boards in 12 minutes of play.  He can do some things with his size and strength, but a betting man would say that he won't project well against Stanford's talented frontcourt unless the officials favor him somehow with the whistle.  Best case scenario for Arizona is probably to have Fox come off the bench and draw some key fouls against Little and Justin Davis.

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