Coming off Saturday’s lopsided loss to Oregon, the Arizona Wildcats have a quicker turnaround than usual for their next game, as they are set to host the Stanford Cardinal on Wednesday night.
Sean Miller doesn’t mind.
“I think it’s good that we don’t play on Thursday,” the UA head coach said Monday at his weekly press conference. “The next game is on us a little bit quicker here by playing on Wednesday. Now that we’re at home, we just experienced the fever pitch crowd against us, and I think we’re all looking forward to having that fever pitch crowd for us, especially now that we’re a few weeks away from the finish line of our regular season.”
No. 9 Arizona (21-3, 10-1 Pac-12) was blasted by Oregon in its last game, falling to the Ducks by 27 points as they sank 16 3-pointers against the Wildcats’ defense.
It was Arizona’s worst loss since 2009 — it also snapped UA’s 15-game winning streak — but Miller doesn’t believe it will diminish his team’s confidence.
Or at least he hopes it won’t.
“We’ve been at it a while. I don’t think one game is all of a sudden going to strip us of our confidence or ruin what we’ve built, but when you get beat as bad as we got beat, you certainly worry about that,” he said. “We don’t want any carryover from the last game into the next game, and if we have any carryover we want it to be the lessons learned. The good carryover.”
Returning to the friendly confines of McKale Center should help the Wildcats get back to winning ways.
Arizona has won 18 home games in a row, and 67 of its last 68 games in Tucson.
Another way to get back into the win column is to get Lauri Markkanen the ball more often. UA’s leading scorer has seen his production dip in recent games, and Miller said Monday that the Wildcats have to do a better job of putting the 7-footer in a better position to score.
“He’s not 6-foot-7,” he said. “He’s not a thin guy that can’t score around the basket,” Miller said. “Being able to get him the ball in the paint, high-post, low-post, on the block more is part of what’s going to help him score more consistently against these variety of defenses.”
Markkanen is averaging just 11.6 points per game and is only taking 7.4 shots per contest since Allonzo Trier returned to Arizona’s lineup on Jan. 21, though Miller said Markkanen’s regression is unrelated to Trier’s return.
Miller also said he plans to mix Keanu Pinder back into the rotation against the Bay Area schools, saying the forward’s rebounding and defense can help the Wildcats when opposing teams go small (which has been happening more and more often lately).
Pinder has played just 21 minutes over the last five games, and the Wildcats’ defense is at its best when the Australian is on the court, allowing just 89.4 points per 100 possessions.
Stanford (12-11, 4-7 Pac-12) enters Wednesday as a loser in three of its last four games, though Miller says the Cardinal are “much-improved” since the two teams faced each other on Jan. 1.
“(Head coach) Jerod Haase is doing a really good job coaching his team,” Miller said. “As a first-year head coach, it’s hard. I think they have more of an upside to improve because all of their players are dealing with a new system and a new coaching staff so it takes time, it takes way beyond one year, but I think we’ve seen improvement from them throughout the course of the season.
“They’re better right now than when we played them the first time. I don’t know if the score of that game is indicative of the difference in the two teams. But we respect them a lot.”
Arizona beat Stanford 91-52 earlier in the season, but Miller says the Cardinal are dangerous in two ways — they force turnovers and they get to the free throw line.
Opponents have a turnover percentage of 22.2 against Stanford in Pac-12 play.
“You don’t think of Stanford basketball and forcing turnovers but they’re No. 1 in our conference right now in forcing turnovers in conference games,” Miller said. “In spite of our score against them the first time, we had 19 turnovers in that game. That’s something that’s part of our team’s success. When we have single-digit turnovers or 10 or 11, we’re a much better team than if we turn the ball more than that.
“On offense they get to the foul line as well as any team in our conference. They drive the ball and Reid Travis is one of the best low-post players in our conference. Michael Humphrey is somebody who’s a really good player, too.”
Travis — a 6-foot-8 junior — leads Stanford in both scoring (16.7) and rebounding (8.3), but has been in and out of the lineup with injuries this season.
However, he has played in the Cardinal’s last three games, and he scored 26 points in Stanford’s 81-75 win over Utah on Saturday.
Arizona held Travis to 11 points on 12 shots in its first meeting against Stanford.
“He’s missed some games this year and I’m actually glad that we saw him the first time because I think we’ll be much more ready the second time,” Miller said. “He has a such a physical and unique style. Although he’s a low-post player, he scores a lot of his points facing (up), driving, they do a really good job of isolating him at the elbow and off the lane where he’ll drive a big guy, and that’s one of the reasons he shoots so many free throws. He’s also a great offensive rebounder and physically I don’t know if we’ve played against a frontcourt player who’s more physical than him.”
As a team, Stanford ranks as the 209th (of 351) offense in the country, per KenPom. The Cardinal shoot just 32.4 percent from 3.
Junior guard Dorian Pickens is Stanford’s second-leading scorer (12.3 PPG) as well as its best 3-point shooter, as he is connecting on 38 percent of his 3-point attempts this season.
Humphrey — a 6-foot-9 forward from Phoenix — averages 9.3 points and 6.1 rebounds per game.
The Cardinal are much better defensively than they are offensively. They rank 38th in the country in defensive efficiency, holding opponents to 96.6 points per 100 possessions, per KenPom.
Stanford has not had much success against Arizona recently, to say the least.
The Cardinal have not beaten the Wildcats since the 2008-09 season, giving Arizona 14 consecutive wins over Stanford.
Miller has never lost to Stanford during his tenure at Arizona.
How to watch Wednesday’s game
Time: 9 p.m. MST
TV: FOX Sports 1
Live stream: FOX Sports GO
Announcers: Aaron Goldsmith and Steve Lavin
How they matchup
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