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What to watch for when Arizona hosts Stanford on Sunday

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arizona-stanford-basketball-preview-wildcats-cardinal-what-to-watch-notes-quotes-interviews-pac-12 Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

Fresh off their first win in more than a month, the Arizona Wildcats will try to build their first win streak in six weeks when they host the Stanford Cardinal on Sunday night at McKale Center.

Arizona (15-12, 6-8 Pac-12) started 4-0 in league play, a road sweep of the Bay Area schools capping that run. But since then the Wildcats have dropped eight of 10, including seven in a row for their longest skid since 1982-83 before Thursday’s 76-51 drubbing of last-place Cal.

Stanford (14-12, 7-7) fell 80-62 at ASU on Wednesday, only it second loss in the last seven games.

Tip-off is set for 6 p.m. MST and will be shown live on ESPN2. Here are some things to keep an eye on in this matchup:

Luther’s long-distance run

Arizona’s 40.8 percent shooting in Pac-12 play is second from the bottom, but don’t tell Ryan Luther. The Pitt graduate transfer has been as hot as anyone in the league of late, averaging 16.7 points in the Wildcats’ last three games including a season high-tying 19 against Cal.

Most of that damage has been from three-point range, with Luther going 5 for 8 from deep on Thursday and 13 of 23 from 3 in the past three games.

For the season Luther is shooting 40.2 percent from outside, a rate that rises to 41.5 percent (27 of 65) in the Pac-12.

Amazingly, though, that isn’t Arizona’s best perimeter percentage in league play. Dylan Smith is shooting 42.2 percent (27 of 64) while Brandon Williams was shooting 40 percent (14 of 35) before getting shut down with pain in his surgically repaired right knee.

Arizona is sixth in the Pac-12 in three-point shooting, at 35.3 percent, and that’s before facing a Stanford team that’s allowing 38.3 percent shooting from beyond the arc. The Wildcats were 7 of 12 from 3 in their 75-70 win in Palo Alto in early January.

Will he or won’t he?

Speaking of Williams, Arizona coach Sean Miller intimated after Thursday’s game there was a “slim chance” his freshman point guard could return to action against Stanford.

“The only way he plays is pain-free,” Miller added.

Williams hasn’t played since Jan. 26, when he experienced knee pain during the course of a 19-point effort at UCLA. Miller believes that was Williams’ best game of the season, and his absence the past six games has been massive.

Before getting shut down, Williams was averaging 12.0 points, 2.8 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game, the assist average tops on the team at that point (Justin Coleman now averages 3.9 per game). He’s still Arizona’s leading scorer in Pac-12 play, at 13.8 per game).

Sharma’s shocking shooting stats

Stanford is the textbook example of an average team, and most of its numbers back this description up. The Cardinal are 7-7 in Pac-12 play, during which they’ve averaged the sixth-most points on offense and allowed the sixth-most points on defense.

Outside of sophomore forward KZ Okpala, who averages 17.6 points per game overall and 18.4 in Pac-12 play, no one else on Stanford is a considerable offensive threat and there are no Cardinal among the top 15 in the league in defensive rating.

Yet on the rare occasion that senior center Josh Sharma gets the ball, he’s money. So much show he should be printing it.

Sharma is shooting 70.5 percent for the season, which is on pace to destroy the previous school record of 67.1 percent of John Revelli in 1982-83. He’s far ahead of the second-best guy in the Pac-12, Oregon State’s Kyler Kelley (63.9 percent entering Saturday), and in just league games he’s an absurd 78.3 percent from the field.

Where does he rank nationally? Well, he would be No. 1 if he met the minimum of 5.0 made field goals per game, but instead the 7-footer is only taking 5.7 shots per contest (making 4.0). In conference play he’s gotten the ball a little more frequently, taking 5.9 shots per game, with seven or more attempts in four of the last five games.

Sharma is 24 for his last 27, going 7 for 7 for 17 points in Wednesday’s loss at ASU. Against Arizona in January he was 4 for 5.

Keeping a good streak alive

Arizona’s seven-game losing streak prior to the Cal win was an historic one, dating back to the horrible 4-24 season in 1982-83 that ultimately prompted the school to hire some guy named Lute Olson.

During that skid the Wildcats saw some notable win streaks come to an end, such as 13 straight wins over Washington State and six in a row against Bobby Hurley and ASU.

But one big win streak is still going: Arizona has won 18 in a row over Stanford, dating back to the 2008-09 season. That’s the longest active run by one Pac-12 team against another, and the games played in Tucson haven’t been that close, with the Wildcats winning by an average of 13.4 points with no margin smaller than seven.

For those scoring at home, Arizona is 4.5-point favorite over the Cardinal.