Arizona re-affirmed its status as the best team in the Pac-12 over the weekend as the Wildcats dismantled Utah. They’ll get another test on Thursday travelling to a tough Stanford squad, that is looking for a big Conference win.
The Cardinal are tied with Arizona and Utah with a 4-1 Conference record, but a lot of their wins have been anything but convincing. That’s highlighted by a slim two-point win at USC just over a week ago. They picked up a nice non-Conference win on the weekend topping Connecticut by 13 points, leading most of the way. This team gave Arizona some trouble last year, but ultimately fell short in two contests, losing 60-57 in their home Game.
The Wildcats rebounded from a bad road loss at Oregon State by flexing their muscle against Colorado and Utah at home. However, they’re back on the road for this one where they haven’t exactly looked great all year. Arizona’s other loss came at UNLV, and they also struggled at UTEP before that. If those road woes show up here, it may be in another losing effort.
The one thing Stanford can do in this Game is match Arizona’s size. Big man Stefan Nastic has come a long way in his time with the team and is putting up a solid stat line this season of 13.9 PTS and 7.2 REB per Game. He’s been so good that Arizona’s Kaleb Tarczewski will need to step up his Game to reach Nastic’s level. Nastic has been much better on the offensive end this year and if he can get Tarczewski into early foul trouble, that will be a problem for a depth-deficient Arizona squad.
While Nastic is important, Chasson Randle and Anthony Brown can’t be ignored. Stanford’s two best scorers have been on fire lately and both are hitting from deep with frequency.
Of course, while Arizona doesn’t have a ton of depth, they are a top team for a reason with plenty of talent in their starting lineup. Freshman Stanley Johnson has been a huge factor and a main reason the Wildcats haven’t lost a beat this season. The kid can do a lot of things, and leading the team in points and rebounds are just a couple of them. And you still have matchup problems with guys like Brandon Ashley and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson on this unit. Point guard T.J. McConnell is as efficient as they come and he’s starting to shoot a bit more in the past couple weeks.
This is Game where the injury to Stanford’s Reid Travis could really hurt them. The freshman Travis was averaging 6.9 boards per Game before going down and the Cardinal haven’t really found someone that can fill the same kind of role yet. against Arizona, that will be an immediate problem.
The Cardinal haven’t lost at home yet, but they haven’t been overwhelming teams in their wins either. This will likely be a close Game, but the advantage has to go to Arizona, unless a guy like Randle goes off and Nastic dominates the paint.
Our Prediction – Arizona by 5