In advance of Stanford men’s basketball’s pivotal matchup against No. 7 Arizona on Thursday, The Daily’s Jordan Wallach chatted with Roberto Payne, Sports Editor of The Daily Wildcat, to gain perspective on the Cardinal’s Pac-12 foe.
The Stanford Daily (TSD): Aside from being outplayed by UNLV in Vegas, Arizona seemed to be cruising into conference play and in its first couple games against Pac-12 competition. What happened in the loss to Oregon State and how have the Wildcats rectified the situation over their last two games?
Roberto Payne (RP): It was really an all-around breakdown against Oregon State. The offense couldn’t score, the defense struggled to stop anyone and Sean Miller was a bit off his game. It was one of those games where everything that could go wrong, did. In the two games since then, a different Arizona team showed up, especially from a defensive standpoint. Colorado and Utah were faced with the Wildcats at their best and didn’t fare well.
TSD: Freshman forward Stanley Johnson, Arizona’s leading scorer, has shown signs of dominance in his rookie year and was just named the Pac-12 Player of the Week for his performances against Colorado and Utah. Yet there’s still just a six-point margin between him and the Wildcats’ No. 6 scorer. What about head coach Sean Miller’s system allows for the offensive balance and how does it work to the Wildcats’ advantage?
RP: The crazy thing about Stanley Johnson is he’s actually holding back right now. He could easily put up 20-plus points night in and night out, but he’s defaulted to Sean Miller’s system and has accepted his role in the bigger picture.
Miller’s system isn’t as dependent on individual players as some other collegiate offensive schemes. It’s more dependent on players fitting roles, rather than roles fitting the players. And the Wildcat players currently fit Miller’s roles fairly well.
TSD: Arizona’s interior defense is touted nationwide, yet Stanford is certainly a team that could kick it outside and shoot the three-ball. How can the Wildcats counter a solid shooting team like the Cardinal?
RP: Arizona’s pack line defense is built to allow contested jump shots rather than layups, so Stanford is essentially playing into Miller’s hands. The Wildcats have at least three or four perimeter defenders capable of shutting down the most talented wing on any team. Just ask Gonzaga’s Kevin Pangos or Utah’s Delon Wright. Just don’t ask Colorado’s Askia Booker because he actually killed Arizona.
TSD: What does Arizona need to do to beat Stanford on Thursday night, and the other way around? Who do you think comes out on top?
RP: The Wildcats just need to play their game and focus on the defensive end because they are dominant when focused. The Oregon State loss really opened up their eyes to what happens when you overlook opponents.
Stanford has the talent to out-shoot Arizona and shock the Wildcats, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that happened. In my opinion, Nastic is the key for the Cardinal to shock the Wildcats. I say Arizona wins 73-58 behind a stingy defensive performance.
Contact Jordan Wallach at jwallach ‘at’ stanford.edu.