The Cardinal have found a recipe for success after losing 4 starter from last year. Mix in a well-executed high post offense with some flex, motion and 1-4 sets, add in a tough man d which might become a zone for about a minute per game and finally top of with some Mike Montgomery seasoning and you get the ingredients for a team that's still competing for the Pac-10 title.
Meanwhile, UCLA is sinking into the murky, unsavory quagmire an altogether different stew…
Casey Jacobsen, 6-6 215 JR SG/SF, is definitely making his case for Pac-10 POY and First Team All-American. Casey's scoring 23.8 ppg in Pac-10 games, 22.5 ppg overall for the season. He's also adding 4.3 rpg and 3.3 apg, while hitting 40.4% of his 3s and 76.1% of his FGs. A power guard with NBA range on his 3 and best first step south of the Oregon border, Casey is considered by most NBA scouts to be a lock for the Lottery after this season. UCLA has no answer for him.
Julius Barnes, 6-1 180 JR SG (11.0 ppg, 3.0 apg, 32.3% 3s, 78.4% FTs) is almost as crucial to the Cardinal's success. Julius might be the quickest and fastest player in the entire Pac-10, as well as one of the most athletic. He can dominate many shorter players with his strength and hops and many taller players with his quickness at both ends of the floor. Although most people notice when Julius has a big offensive night (like against the Bruins the first time around at Pauley), many people don't notice his consistently good d. Indeed, Julius has become one of the best defenders in the league, and that, as much as his offense, has been a key to the Cardinal's play this year.
Josh Childress, 6-8 190 FR SG/SF (8.4 ppg, 5.4 rpg), is one of the top 5 FR in the Pac-10, and he and Julius should assume "star" roles for the Cardinal next year. Josh has grown since h.s., and improved both his hops and physicality, and that's reflected in his excellent rebounding totals and strong baseline game (UCLA fans will recall his 14 point/12 rebound performance at Pauley). Stanford will use Josh and Casey together and just clear out for them to go one on one. Josh has been solid from the perimeter (33.9%), but Cardinal fans haven't seen nothin' yet. He has his moments on d, but they are few and far between. But then he's just a FR.
Tony Giovacchini, 6-2 180 JR PG, Chris Hernandez, 6-2 185 FR PG, and Matt Lottich, 6-4 190 SO SG, fill out the backcourt. Tony, the starting PG, averages only 3.7 ppg and 2.5 apg, but the Cardinal offense involves a lot of isolation plays and fast breaks, so the Stanford PGs aren't going to rack up big assist totals. Tony turns the ball over 1.4 times per game and hits 38.8% of his 3s, so he basically doesn't make mistakes and he makes teams pay if they forget about him. Chris will start at the point next year. He's a superior pure point in the truest sense of the word and averaged 2.5 ppg and 1.6 apg. Next year, he should triple those numbers. Neither Tony nor Chris is a really good defender and they can look mediocre against quick guards, but they can be aggressive and physical with 10 fouls between them. Matt is a tall, strong guard who can really shoot it (30.6% from 3 without consistent PT or many plays run for him). He averages 3.3 ppg and will only get better.
Curtis Borchardt, 7-0 240 JR C, anchors the Cardinal's frontline. Curtis appears taller than his listed 7-0, and will also likely be a NBA Draft Lottery pick after this season. He averages 16.7 ppg, 11.3 rpg, and 3.0 bpg, while hitting 58.2% of his FGs and 45% of his 3s. Curtis, from Redmond, Washington, might be the best pure C in all of college bb this season. He has terrific hands and runs the floor extremely well, well enough that most of his 3-point shots come off the secondary break option. Curtis can hit a hook shot with either hand and has excellent footwork for a big man. He seals off better than any big man I've seen in a long time. Curtis and Chris Christofferson are the only 2 big men in the Pac-10 who can play with Dan Gadzuric one on one when Dan is on top of his game.
Teyo Johnson, 6-7 240 SO PF, has taken over the starting 4 spot after joining the bb squad after football season. Teyo gives the Cardinal a lot of versatility at the PF position. He can step out and hit the 3 (38.1%), beat people off the dribble or post up inside, and he sets excellent screens, enabling Stanford to add some motion sets into its offense as well. He's averaging 5.6 ppg and 3.8 rpg in just 15.3 mpg. He's averaging 8.8 ppg and 4.0 rpg as a starter. Teyo sometimes commits turnovers by trying to force plays off the dribble, and he also mistakes fouls for d.
Justin Davis, 6-8 230 SO PF (5.0 ppg, 4.1 rpg), has been the starting PF, but his inconsistent defense and propensity to foul even beyond the normal Cardinal parameters has gotten him a lot of vicious pine this season. Justin makes Dan look smooth at the foul line. Rob Little, 6-10 265 FR C/PF (2.8 ppg, 2.6 rpg), has been a very good sub for Curtis, and his play at Pauley when Curtis was in foul trouble was a key to Stanford's victory there. He has a soft touch and good footwork to go with his wide body. Joe Kirchofer, 6-9 245 SO PF/C (2.8 ppg, 2.0 rpg), is a skilled banger who has also given the Cardinal some crucial minutes and 5 more fouls in a backup role.
Mike Montgomery goes 11 deep, and he uses that depth to give Stanford one of the two best fast breaks in the conference, along with Oregon. Stanford will also run a speed game, though not as much as Oregon, and they will back off it if they commit some turnovers and fail to get some conversions early.
Thus, the Cardinal present UCLA with many of the same matchup problems as Oregon, but with better defense. Stanford has struggled against teams with great quickness who can apply aggressive pressure, but UCLA doesn't fit that bill, not by a long shot.
At Pauley, both Dan and Matt had a lot of success scoring inside off the 1-4 against the Cardinal. Unfortunately, UCLA has been using a lot of motion lately. If the Bruins focus on using these two players in the post and they can keep Dan out of foul trouble, they should be able to put a lot of pressure on the Cardinal. Curtis doesn't want to get into foul trouble, but like Dan he will be overaggressive at times. The Cardinal rarely double-team the post, working to control the glass, close out on 3-point shooters and extended themselves to break off the missed shot instead, so Matt had better be ready to take the ball to the hole. He needs to score 30 against Stanford, not look to pass it out when he feels contact.
If UCLA is able to keep 2-3 players above the arc on most offensive plays, they should be in a position to clamp down on the Cardinal's speed game and breaks, and that's a key to beating this team. Jason and Billy might not get a lot of shots against Stanford, but they had better be ready to contribute to this team in other ways or their team won't have a chance. The Bruins must also minimize their unforced turnovers. The Cardinal doesn't force a lot of turnovers, but it will overplay passing lanes and bump the guards and wings if a team doesn't do a good job of getting the ball into the lane.
Defensive rebounding is another key. Whether UCLA is working its 1-2-2 matchup, its man or its 2-3 zone, the Bruins must crash the boards. Stanford is the best rebounding team in the Pac-10 by a wide margin, and they use their dominance of the defensive glass to create breaks and their dominance of the offensive glass to create layups and draw numerous fouls, where their superior FT shooting becomes a very effective weapon. The Bruins have been rebounding well of late, even if they haven't been playing well overall. Keeping Dan in the game for 30+ minutes has been the main reason, but Matt and Jason have been hitting the boards well and Ced, Billy and TJ rebound more effectively than most guards.
Finally, UCLA must find a defensive scheme that limits the ability of Casey, Julius and Josh to drive into the lane, either along the baseline or over a high pick up top. The Bruins will try all 3 of its defenses and have worked on their 2-3 especially for just this purpose. But I don't think that any team can beat the Cardinal without a quick defense, which the Bruins just don't have this season.
Prediction: Stanford 95, UCLA 72.