Stanford heads to Arizona this week with a chance to prove how good—or not—it really is.
Two weeks ago, Stanford was sitting at 2-4 in the Pac-12 and licking its wounds from a 21-point loss at Colorado. Everyone thought they knew how good the Cardinal was, but in the end it was not very.
Since then Stanford has won three straight games and is creeping back into the crowded Pac-12 race.
The Cardinal (14-8, 5-4) blew out 2-7 Utah the following game, which was nothing really to get excited over. Then it also beat Oregon State, which at 1-8 has the only record worse than Utah in the Pac-12.
The other win during this run, however—a 76-52 shellacking of then No. 10 Oregon at Maples Pavilion—did raise a few eyebrows.
A win at No.7 Arizona tonight would show that the marquee win was no fluke, and that it wasn’t just about Oregon’s star point guard, Dominic Artis, being hurt. It would also put Stanford just a game behind No. 1 Arizona in the conference standings.
On the other hand, losses this weekend to Arizona (19-2, 7-2 Pac-12) and Arizona State (17-5, 6-3) would throw the Cardinal right back into mediocrity, both within the league and in the NCAA Tournament picture.
The three-game winning streak has, at the very least, given the Cardinal confidence and a we-can-beat-anybody mindset.
“Guys are refusing to lose out there, and if we keep that mentality, I think the sky’s the limit for us,” said sophomore guard Chasson Randle after the team’s close victory over Oregon State.
With Stanford’s overwhelming offensive production over the last three games, it is easy to get swept up in the current tailwind of confidence. The team shot a combined 31-54 from behind the arc during the streak, an immense improvement from its .341 season percentage.
Randle, seemingly back to last season’s scoring form, averaged 18 points a game, up from his 14.2 season average.
While Randle has done the most damage, Stanford has had balance as well. Four players have scored in double digits in each of the past three games.
Junior forward Josh Huestis even gained recognition as Pac-12 Player of the Week for his offensive and defensive production during the Oregon and Oregon State wins. He averaged a double-double with 15 points and 13 rebounds while also coming up with 2.5 blocks per game.
“Man, Josh is like an eraser up there,” said Randle of Heustis’ defensive play of late. “Anything that gets up to the basket, I’m counting on him to take it out, and most of the time he does.”
Arizona has only lost twice this season, both times to top conference opponents. The Pac-12’s first-place team lost at Oregon as well as at home to UCLA after going undefeated in non-conference play, which included a standout victory over Florida.
The Wildcats have three players averaging over 13 points per game (ppg), with senior guard Mark Lyons leading the squad with 14.9 ppg. During the Pac-12 season, he has improved that average to nearly 17 ppg.
Senior forward Solomon Hill and sophomore guard Nick Johnson are the other top scorers for Arizona. Hill also leads the team in rebounds and three-point shooting percentage.
Arizona is in the midst of a three-game winning streak of its own. While that ties the longest streak of Stanford’s season, the Wildcats opened the year with 14 wins in a row.
That kind of streak is so far away for Stanford that it cannot even be seen over the horizon, but wins this week would bring such aspirations a lot closer to shore.
“We’ve set new standards for ourselves,” said junior forward Dwight Powell after the Oregon State win.
Well, today is the first day to live up to those standards—or not.
Contact David Perez at firstname.lastname@example.org.