No. 18 Arizona gets its first crack at No. 2 Stanford early Monday afternoon. This notebook talks about some of the challenges of this weekend both on and off the court. We also have viewing information and rankings.
On the Pac-12’s past scheduling decisions
When Rhonda Lundin Bennett was hired for the Pac-12’s newly created Associate Commissioner for Women’s Basketball & Sports Management position in late August, part of her job description included overseeing conference scheduling. While it’s probably unfair to expect her to make radical improvements to a complicated process in just a few months, Arizona’s schedule last season and this season are Exhibits A and B for why scheduling needs to be addressed at the conference level.
Last year, Arizona and Stanford were coming off a season when they faced each other for the national title. It was a prime opportunity to get attention for the league by working with ESPN to feature the rematches on national TV. It wasn’t made a priority by the league.
The Pac-12 was coming off the season that was dramatically altered by the pandemic. If there was ever a time where it made sense to alter the schedule, this was it.
Instead, the league opted to return to the schedule as it was before the pandemic. That meant the Wildcats and Cardinal faced each other just once. It was not the best way to promote the league or the sport of women’s basketball.
The missed opportunity had a much bigger impact on Arizona than on Stanford. For starters, the single meeting between the two teams took place in Palo Alto. The Wildcats did not get to host the Cardinal.
That was just the tip of the iceberg, though. The biggest impact of these games between the league’s top teams is on their national exposure. Prior to the season, the Pac-12 and ESPN announced that the network would feature five games with Pac-12 teams during the regular season. Four of them were to have included Stanford. The only other team who was scheduled to play more than once was Oregon.
To the Pac-12’s credit, it was able to place several more games on the ESPN networks. Of course, most of those games featured Stanford.
The Cardinal ended up playing on ESPN networks six times during the 2021-22 regular season. Arizona was set to play three games but had to cancel one due to COVID-19 protocols. Oregon got that exposure three times, and UCLA was in the spotlight three times.
Barnes believes that getting quality games on the schedule doesn’t have to mean just improving nonconference scheduling. She points out that there are a lot of quality games in the Pac-12 that would be great for national TV—and the league needs them to be featured.
“I think our conference, our young women, deserve it,” Barnes said at Pac-12 Media Day in October. “I think that what’s important to me is, even for recruiting, for all of our coaches, we want our talent showcased. We don’t want to be the stepsister on the West Coast. We don’t want all the voters—everybody voting on the East Coast—because we have great products on the West Coast, and we want to keep great players like we are now on the West Coast. So, we deserve that.”
On this season’s scheduling decisions
Things did not get better for Arizona this season regarding Stanford and ESPN exposure. When the league decided to alter the women’s schedule to put one of each pair’s rivalry games earlier in the season, Barnes said that both she and Arizona State head coach Natasha Adair had most of their schedules already set.
The result was that the two Arizona schools had to play three games in approximately four days. One of those games would be against No. 2 Stanford. The Wildcats and Sun Devils tipped off at 6 p.m. MST on Thursday evening. Arizona’s next game started at 8 p.m. MST on Saturday at California, and they will wind things up beginning at 12:30 p.m. MST on Monday afternoon.
The chronological issues with the schedule are bad enough. The exposure issues are even worse. As happened last season, Arizona will only be able to take advantage of one contest against the top team in the league.
Having a clash against the Cardinal scheduled for 11:30 a.m. PST on the Monday after New Year’s Day is unlikely to draw any national attention to the Wildcats. It certainly didn’t draw the attention of ESPN, which won’t be airing this game.
Once again, this matchup between two Top 20 teams will be treated as an afterthought. It’s unlikely to hurt Stanford, which gets plenty of national publicity. Arizona, however, is still in the stage of its development when every bit of national attention is vital. An evening game on ESPN2 is important to the Wildcats. Instead, they will play on the Pac-12 Network during the lunchtime hour on a weekday.
On Stanford’s frontcourt
Our helpful Stanford expert weighed in on the game already, but there are a few other points of interest from the Arizona perspective.
Arizona’s only loss this season came to a team that had a dominant frontcourt player. Taiyanna Jackson of Kansas carved the Wildcats up to the tune of 19 points, 15 rebounds, an assist, three blocks, and two steals. It’s true that the ‘Cats have improved since then, but it’s also true that they haven’t faced a dominant post since then. That will change in Palo Alto, but Barnes thinks there are reasons to be optimistic despite facing a great post like Cameron Brink.
“I think Kansas was kind of like an isolated thing,” Barnes said. “We didn’t guard at all. I mean, if you let someone drive to the basket 37 times and score 31, that’s a problem. I think our rotation, confidence in our help, all that stuff, we’re way better than that now. So, I don’t think it’ll be as much of an issue. Esmery [Martinez] and Cate [Reese] definitely have to stay out of foul trouble, but I think Esmery’s a really good defender inside and really strong. Now, she will have a height disadvantage, but she will have an advantage on the perimeter. So, I think if things give us a problem, we have different things put in to where we can help support each other, but we have to be creative. I think they’re big, but we’re also fast and we’re also going to play pressure defense a lot of people haven’t faced. So, I think they’ll struggle with some areas and so will we, and that’s the part of the game.”
The foul situation is a special concern. Arizona ran into foul trouble on Saturday in Berkeley. Martinez fouled out in just 13 minutes of playing time. On the other hand, Brink has had issues with fouls her entire career, although she is improving. How the game is officiated could be very important for both teams.
On defensive strengths
One thing that Jackson did to the Wildcats when they faced Kansas was make them alter their shots for fear of getting blocked. Stanford could do the same, although Barnes implored her players during the Jayhawks game to ignore the shot-blocker and continue going for their inside shots. She noted that the probability of getting fouled was greater than the probability of getting blocked.
The Cardinal block 16.2 percent of their opponents’ two-point shots. That puts them in the 99th percentile of Division I basketball. On the other hand, they get steals on just eight percent of their opponents’ plays, putting them in the 28th percentile for that stat. They get almost as many blocks per game (6.1) as steals per game (6.3).
On the flip side, the Wildcats have a steal rate of 15.2 percent, putting them in the 99th percentile for that stat. To their credit, they are a bit more balanced than Stanford when it comes to defensive stats. Arizona has an 8.3 percent block rate, putting them in the 62nd percentile.
The Wildcats get roughly half the number of blocks per game (3.2) than Stanford does, but they more than double up the Cardinal on steals with 12.9 per game. Those steals are regularly turned into points on the other end.
No. 18 Arizona Wildcats (12-1, 2-0 Pac-12) @ No. 2 Stanford Cardinal (14-1, 2-0 Pac-12)
When: Monday, January 2, 2023, at 12:30 p.m. MST
Where: Maples Pavilion in Stanford, Calif.
TV: Pac-12 Network and Pac-12 Arizona
Streaming: Streaming is available via the Pac-12 Now app or online. Both options require a subscription via a TV provider. Streaming is also available with a subscription to a TV package that includes the Pac-12 Network via Sling, Fubo, or Vidgo.
Radio: Listen to the call by Derrick Palmer online on The Varsity Network or on the radio at KTUC 1400 AM.
Stats: Stanford Live Stats
Rankings: Arizona is ranked No. 18 by the Associated Press and No. 15 by the WBCA. Stanford is ranked No. 2 in both major polls.
The Wildcats are No. 24 in the NET and No. 22 in Her Hoop Stats’ rankings. The Cardinal are No. 3 in the NET and No. 2 according to HHS.
Projections: Her Hoop Stats projects a Stanford win no matter where the game is played. In Maples Pavilion, HHS gives the Cardinal a 91.7 percent win probability with a projected margin of victory of 17.9 points. The projected total is 138.8 points.
How to follow along
Follow us on Twitter @AZDesertSwarm for all things Arizona Wildcats. For live tweets of women’s basketball and news throughout the week, follow our deputy editor @KimDoss71.