As with so many occasions this season, Friday’s game between the Arizona Wildcats and Stanford Cardinal has a kind of importance for Arizona that hasn’t been seen since the early 2000s or the late 1990s. In this case, memories of both hang in the air.
In 2004, the Wildcats and the Cardinal met for their second matchup in just under a month. Stanford had been victorious in the teams’ earlier meeting, handling Arizona easily in Maples Pavilion. But the season is long. The Wildcats could put pressure on Stanford for the title race if they could beat the Cardinal in McKale Center on Feb. 5.
They did, edging Stanford out 88-83. It improved the Wildcats’ conference record to 9-2, even in the loss column with 10-2 Stanford. Eventually, it would be the game that secured a share of the regular season title for Arizona.
“Tonight we took advantage by seizing the opportunity,” then-coach Joan Bonvicini said after that game. “Stanford is a great team and never backed down from us. But at the same time, we didn’t back down at all either. Our players stepped up when they needed to, and played with a lot of poise.”
Current head coach Adia Barnes hopes to be able to say the same thing after Friday’s game. It won’t be a game that could eventually allow the Wildcats to tie the Cardinal for first as happened in 2004. This time, it would be about the opportunity to tie for second or at least climb to third and avoid a possible matchup with top-seeded Oregon in the semifinals of next week’s Pac-12 tournament.
What the Wildcats will face is a very different team from the one that took the floor for Stanford last year. Gone is star Alanna Smith who had seven blocks to go along with 20 points and 14 rebounds in last year’s game in Tucson. Smith is now part of the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury.
Also missing is DiJonai Carrington who added 19 points in that blow-out. The senior has missed most of the season with an injury. She has not appeared in a game since November.
But there’s still lots of talent, as there always is in Palo Alto. The Hull sisters—Lexie and Lacie—are back. Six-foot-one Lacie Hull used her length to effectively guard Aari McDonald last season.
Kiana Williams is back. The junior scored 13 points and went 3 for 5 in Tucson last season.
“They’re so young this year,” Barnes said. “They’re young, and they’ve had a lot of injuries. So missing a player like DiJonai is huge, because she’s a leader, a vet, she’s hard to guard. And so when you have young players on your team, I think it’s a lot harder. But the amazing thing about (Stanford coach) Tara (VanDerveer) is that her team could be young, it can be old, she could have half the team hurt, and she still always finds a way. So with whatever she has because of her system, her philosophy and her coaching, she always finds a way to be better. You may count Stanford out or say, ‘Oh, they’ll be like fourth or fifth.’ And she always rises to first or second. You’re like, ‘I don’t know how to she does it.’ But I think that’s why she’s a hall of famer.”
One thing that helps is that the youth is extremely talented. The freshmen constituted the No. 2 recruiting class this season.
Unfortunately for Stanford, their top freshman has been out for almost two months. No. 1 recruit Haley Jones had been part of the starting lineup since Carrington was injured, but suffered her own injury in January.
Despite that, they have lived up to their billing as the league’s second team largely because they have a coach who won’t allow anything else to happen.
“I love everything about what (VanDerveer) does,” Barnes said. “I also love the fact that she’s always professional. That anything can happen. I mean, she could have so many excuses this year. She can complain about this, she can complain about that. She’s missing two of her star players. You will never see her talk about it, because she just does what she does. She just coaches her team.”
As for the Wildcats, they appear to be healthy. While McDonald sat out last week, it was primarily for precautionary and rest reasons. Her coach says she’s back and 100 percent this week.
Cate Reese dealt with symptoms of diabetes that forced her to spend parts of two nights at the hospital during the Rocky Mountain road trip. All indications are that she’s fine now, as well.
The Wildcats have shown that they can beat Top 10 teams. They have shown that they can compete against Top 5 teams. Now, they have the opportunity to help improve their seeding in the Pac-12 Tournament and to secure home court advantage in the NCAA Tournament by taking down No. 4 Stanford.
They can also help their coach pick up a victory over a woman for whom she has the “most respect for of any coach in America.”
“Tara has 1,000 wins? I’ll die before I have 1,000 wins,” Barnes joked.
Arizona-Stanford game details:
Date: Friday, Feb. 28, 2020
Time: 6 p.m. MST
Location: McKale Center in Tucson, Ariz.
Records: Arizona (22-5, 11-5), Stanford (24-4, 13-3)
Rankings and ratings: Arizona is ranked No. 13 in both the Associated Press and the USA Today/WBCA polls. Stanford is ranked No. 4 by the AP and No. 6 by the coaches.
Analytics site Her Hoop Stats rates the Cardinal No. 9 and the Wildcats No. 18 overall. Stanford is rated the No. 9 offense and the No. 16 defense. Arizona is the No. 33 offense and the No. 8 defense.
The official RPI has Stanford at No. 8 and Arizona at No. 24.
Which channel is Arizona-Stanford on?
The game will be aired live on Pac-12 Arizona, Pac-12 Bay Area and the Pac-12 Network national feed.
How can I stream Arizona-Stanford ?
The stream will be available on Pac-12.com or the Pac-12 Now app on your mobile device, but only if you already subscribe to the Pac-12 Network. Click the “How to watch” button at the top of the link.
How can I listen to the radio call of Arizona-Stanford?
Where can I find stats for Arizona-Stanford?
Official stats are available on Arizona Live Stats both during and after the game.
How can I follow Arizona-Stanford?
You can follow us on Twitter @AZDesertSwarm. You can also follow our editor @RKelapire and our reporter @KimDoss71 for coverage of Arizona women’s basketball on game day and every other day of the week.