The Tip-Off: Deandre Ayton and Arizona head to Palo Alto to face red-hot Stanford

click to enlarge The Tip-Off: Deandre Ayton and Arizona head to Palo Alto to face red-hot Stanford
Stan Liu | Arizona Athletics
Freshman forward Brandon Randolph throws down a dunk against the University of Oregon on Jan. 13.

The game of the season in the Pac-12 tips off tomorrow, pitting an Arizona team that looked god-awful when playing a woeful Cal team against the Brainiacs from Stanford.

The battle, which takes place at 2 p.m. on Saturday, will be the toughest in a while for Sean Miller’s club, with the Cardinal (11-8, 5-1) rolling off five straight wins, finding themselves in a tie for first place with the Wildcats.

The Cardinal, led by second-year coach Jerod Haase, feature a balanced offensive attack, spearheaded by Arizona natives Dorian Pickens and Michael Humphrey—who average 12.9 and 11.2 points per game, respectively.

Perhaps the greatest cog in the Stanford offensive machine, however, is Minnesota native Reid Travis—whose fresh-faced enthusiasm with the ball in his hands has produced a team-high 20 points per game this season, to go with 7.5 rebounds per game.

Defense might be an issue for both teams, with the Cardinal ranking 250th in Division I in points allowed (75.1), with Arizona sitting at 156th, giving up 71.4 points per game.

Miller in his weekly press conference on Monday stressed how important the Cardinals’ combo of experience and skill is, with two seniors, a junior and two freshmen in their usual starting five.

“With Stanford, they have a lot of experience, maybe the most returning experience in our conference,” Miller said. “But, I also know they've battled through a significant amount of
injuries in the non-conference season.”

Both of those tenets were on full display on Thursday, when Stanford rolled past ASU in Palo Alto, 86-77, thanks to 37 points from the combo of Travis and Pickens, to go with a Herculean effort by bench players Josh Sharma and Oscar de Silva, who scored 14 points apiece against the Sun Devils.

The Cardinal’s recent resurgence has gotten them within the top-100 of Friday’s rankings—up four spots from the start of the week.

Turnovers galore

A major problem for the Arizona offense of-late has been its inability to hold onto the ball—committing 21 turnovers against the Bears in Berkeley on Thursday.

The Wildcats rank 111th in the nation in turnovers per game, at 12.6, which speaks to their continued inability to effectively move the ball, and their lack of a true point guard to
guide the offense forward.

They’ll need better ballhandling from upperclassmen, like junior guard Allonzo Trier—who has committed at least two turnovers in each of his last five games, in order to escape Palo Alto with a win.

The Wildcats should get a shot in the arm on Saturday, with sophomore guard Rawle Alkins returning from a foot injury.

Miller will need Alkins and senior guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright, who had 14 points and a team-best six assists on Thursday, to be in top form at Maples—where Arizona’s conference
title dreams have died in the past.

The longtime Arizona coach expects a daylong battle in the South Bay on Saturday, given Stanford’s run of-late.

“Stanford's a good team, and seems like they're playing their best, with a lot of confidence,” Miller said. “And in fairness to them, they're healthy.”

How to Watch: Arizona and Stanford tip off at 2 p.m. on Saturday, with CBS airing the game live.

How to Bet: Vegas has Arizona as a six-point favorite over Stanford

Who to Watch: Stanford has five players averaging more than 10 points a game—Reid Travis (20.0), Dorian Pickens (12.9), Michael Humphrey (11.2), Kezie Okpala (10.9) and Daejon Davis (10.4). Perhaps the most exciting player of-late, however, has been seven-foot junior Josh Sharma, who scored 14 points against ASU on Thursday.