Arizona’s 3-game road trip to California begins Saturday with a trip to Stanford, a team that it had dominated for more than a decade before losing to twice last season.
To better understand the Cardinal (10-5, 3-2 Pac-12), we reached out to Grant Avalon of Channel Tree Sports to get some insight on the Wildcats’ next foe. Here are his fresh answers to our expired questions:
AZ Desert Swarm: Stanford went 2-1 last week, including a win over previously unbeaten USC and a comeback victory at Washington State. How would you assess the Cardinal’s play of late, particularly in consideration of having been on a lengthy COVID pause before that?
Grant Avalon: “If I were to use one word to summarize Stanford’s recent play, it would be tenacity. Head coach Jerod Haase was famous for that when he played and you can still see it in him on the sidelines. The last nine Stanford games have been decided by single digits or in overtime. There really aren’t many commonalities from game to game. There’s no dependable bellcow in Oscar da Silva, but instead there are twelve rotation players that collectively pick up the slack on any given night. Some of the best performances have come when the stars weren’t playing like stars.
“Stanford knocking off USC on the heels of a nearly 3-week COVID pause is in itself impressive. What makes it all the more impressive is that Haase stayed behind in Hawaii to look after the guys who were forced to quarantine. While the rest of the team returned to the mainland, he turned into a laundry and food delivery man.
“They dug themselves into holes in a lot of the early games, and have taken a confidence from those successes. Last week they overtook USC in the final minutes. They trailed by double figures in Pullman before rattling off a 23-0 run. The deficit was 22 to Washington, but they trimmed that to just 2 points in the final minute. Stanford seldom plays a complete game, but they never go down without a fight.”
Harrison Ingram is the frontrunner for Pac-12 Freshman of the Year and is the Cardinal’s leading scorer, rebounder and assist man. What has made him such an effective all-around player?
“Harrison has an old man game. He plays at his speed and exudes a veteran savviness. He lets the game come to him, and gets everything in the flow of the offense. As great of a talent as Ziaire Williams was, Harrison is far more college-ready. If anything, Stanford could benefit from him being even more aggressive.
“He also came to campus with a physically mature body. In many lineups he’s playing the 2 or 3 at 6-foot-7, 230 pounds. There aren’t many guards or wings who can defend him in the post. And when teams bring the double, he’s a gifted and willing passer. He’s also a grounded kid with no semblance of an ego. That’s not a given with 5-star recruits.
“Of course, his dominance in the Pac-12 Freshman of the Year category is partly due to much of the conference putting a substantial focus on the transfer market.”
Who else should Arizona fans be most concerned about among Stanford’s rotation?
“Spencer Jones has really rounded out his game in his junior season. When he first got to Stanford he was an unknown recruit who could do little more than spot up. He’s added more to his game each year since, and can score in a variety of ways. He averaged 19 a game during the recent four game winning streak, spanning the Diamond Head Classic and the return from COVID. Spencer is also the best defender on the team, and will more than likely draw his share of (Benn) Mathurin duty. That should be a fun one.
“Jaiden Delaire was the conference’s MIP last year, and can score in bunches. Sophomore forward Brandon Angel has also had a breakout campaign, averaging 13.5 over the last four. He can stretch the floor, has great hands, and finishes effectively in the paint. But ultimately eleven different guys have gone for double figures at some point this year, so it could come from anyone.”
Stanford’s offense looks pretty efficient, at least when it doesn’t turn the ball over 24.5 percent of the time, worst in Pac-12 play. The Cardinal also foul a lot in conference games. Are they just taking a lot of chances on both ends of the court?
“A decent chunk of those fouls are also turnovers, to be fair. I think they committed three charges before the first media timeout of the last game. The offense has had turnover issues each year under Haase. Part of it is systemic, in that they force their way through a lot of congested driving lanes. They’ve also struggled to find a steady, playmaking guard outside of the one-and-done Tyrell Terry. One thing that has really helped the efficiency this year is offensive rebounding. They have one of the tallest rosters in the nation and make use of it. But of course, you have to get shots to get offensive rebounds.
“The fouls are also a factor of defensive aggression. Haase comfortably plays twelve guys this year with a rotation that reminds me a bit of a Leonard Hamilton team. Guys are ultra aggressive in their stints, by design. There are a couple of players who need to be better about avoiding the fouls, though, namely Spencer Jones.”
How do you think the lack of fans will impact the way this game goes? Arizona tends to draw well in the Bay Area.
“I’ve been telling everyone who will listen that the lack of fans is a blessing for Stanford in this game. Arizona draws extremely well, and Stanford frankly doesn’t. Many of the recent matchups in Maples have been a home atmosphere for the Wildcats. I’m not exaggerating. The Cardinal are plenty used to generating their own energy, so if there’s any edge from this policy, it weirdly goes to the home team here.”
Prediction time. Can Stanford win a third straight against the UA (after losing the previous 20) or will the Wildcats come out on top in Maples Pavilion for the 11th time in a row? What’s the score going to be?
“I think this isn’t the worst matchup for Stanford. They have the size to contend with Arizona, and the Wildcats aren’t an elite team at forcing turnovers. The Cardinal should hang around. That said, Arizona is simply playing at a different level right now, and I expect them to come out on top. I see something like an 80-73 game.”