Arizona looks to conquer road with trip to Bay
TUCSON, Ariz. — Seemingly, all is right with the Arizona basketball program after two consecutive wins — even for a team still in search of its powerhouse identity.
But a team like Stanford, next up on the Wildcats’ schedule, could derail the recent progress.
Forget Arizona (16-2, 4-1 Pac-12) has won nine consecutive games against the Cardinal. The two play Thursday for at least a share of the conference lead.
The road has been nothing but trouble for No. 7 Arizona — at least on its two road trips — where hostile environments and stingy defenses left coach Sean Miller’s group looking, well, un-Arizona-like.
But there will be more to Stanford (13-4, 4-1) than just playing in Maples Pavilion; Arizona will be face one of more veteran teams in the conference and a team likely headed back to the NCAA tournament in two months, at least according Miller.
Stanford is coming off a 72-59 win over defending national champion Connecticut, and beat UNLV 89-60 to start the season and Texas (in Austin) 74-71 in December.
"They are having a great season and the reason is they are a really good team," Miller said. "… They are very capable of winning our conference."
After all, Miller said, the Cardinal could very likely have the conference’s player of the year in senior guard Chasson Randle, who leads the Pac-12 in scoring at 19.8 points per game and has the help of fifth-year seniors Anthony Brown and Stefan Nastic.
The duo of Brown and Randle, Miller said, could be one of the best backcourts in the conference, and Nastic could be one of the most improved players in the country.
The trip, too, will mark Brandon Ashley’s return to the scene where he suffered a season-ending injury last season. That happens Saturday when Arizona faces California. Ashley suffered the injury early in the game vs. Cal as Arizona was attempting to win its 22nd consecutive game to start the season. Arizona lost, then had to readjust with life after Ashley, who has said numerous times in the last two months he no longer thinks about his one-time broken foot.
"I know all that is fresh in his mind," Miller said. "I don’t look at it as a negative. I think he’ll be highly motivated. Our team will be motivated. We know Cal and Stanford are always difficult to beat at home, especially Stanford right now."
Said guard T.J. McConnell: "Brandon is a team guy. I don’t he’s really thinking about that (old injury). He’s going to do whatever it takes for us to win. What happened last year is in the rear-view mirror."
Still, Arizona must concentrate on what it does best: be athletic, grab rebounds and attempt to get its opponent in fast break or fast-paced situations. And, of course, play with the same intensity it did against Utah on Saturday.
"It’s going to be a tough game, no matter where you are and who you are playing," McConnell said, "but especially a team like Stanford who (has) guys who have been playing for a couple of years. They will really test us."
Defense, again, will have to play a major part for Arizona as it faces Brown, Randle and Nastic. To Arizona’s credit, the trio has done poorly with Randle averaging just 11.2 points per game and Brown six points. Brown added 12 points last game, but hit just 5 of 16 shots. They’ve shot a combined 30 percent vs. Arizona the last three years and have never beaten Arizona since arriving on campus.
Past success, however, doesn’t guarantee future success. McConnell said Randle — who needs 12 points to become the first Pac-12 player in the last 12 years to score more than 2,000 career points — is one of the best point guards in the country.
"I don’t think he gets enough credit for how good he is," McConnell said. "He’s a terrific player and the reason why Stanford is doing as well as they are doing this year."