ASU and Arizona face Pac-12-leading Stanford, desperate Cal
No more feeling out the rest of the Pac-12.
Three weeks into the conference schedule, No. 14 Arizona and No. 16 Arizona State visit Stanford and California knowing full well that their nonconference seasons are in the past.
Already, it’s must-win time to keep pace with the top of the pack.
Arizona heads into a Wednesday game at Cal tied with Stanford at 4-1 in conference play, leading the league. The Sun Devils visit the Cardinal on Wednesday hoping they are closer to the team that started the year 12-0 rather than the one that’s gone 2-3 in the Pac-12.
ASU (14-3) is coming off a comeback victory over Oregon State and hoping an evolving rotation and hit-and-miss performances from its stars of late can be overcome.
“We need to try and play whoever is giving us the chance to win that particular game,” Hurley told Doug & Wolf on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station. “I will say that we have not connected collectively in attacking and having our premier guys all play well together, in terms of scoring.”
For Arizona (14-4), a home sweep of the Oregon schools saw the Wildcats hold off two rally attempts.
“Being able to finish strong, make free throws, make correct plays, execute both on offense and defense, that’s what winning teams do. We certainly did that well,” Sean Miller told reporters Monday. “I think really a microcosm of our entire season, there were times defensively where we played really well, great effort, connected, and there were times when we didn’t.”
Stanford hits its stride
The Cardinal (10-8, 4-1 Pac-12) limped into conference play at 6-7 and lost to a downtrodden Cal team that itself suffered nonconference defeats to the likes of Central Arkansas, UC Riverside, Chaminade and Portland State.
Since, Stanford has rolled off four straight wins, beating UCLA in two overtimes and USC by a point before sweeping the Washington schools on the road.
What’s behind the swing?
Stanford got freshman forward Kezie Okpala back from an academic suspension a game before the Pac-12 schedule began — that was a 75-54 loss to Kansas — and he’s scored in double-digits every game since.
Senior guard Dorian Pickens also returned from an injury and twice in his five games back has scored more than 25 points.
“They’re not the team that they were in the nonconference,” Hurley told reporters on Tuesday.
Add the returnees to a core that has seen impressive play from junior forward Reid Travis and freshman guard Daejon Davis, and Stanford suddenly has a drawer full of weapons.
The numbers don’t like Cal
Sitting at the bottom of the Pac-12 with a 1-4 start and 7-11 overall record, the Golden Bears aren’t exactly impressing when it comes to scoring with efficiency.
They don’t shoot it well from the field, are in the bottom 15 of 351 NCAA teams in three-point attempts and rely quite a bit on getting to the foul stripe. Problem is, they don’t shoot it well from there, either.
Defensively, Cal doesn’t defend the three — or really any shot not at the rim — well by allowing 40 percent shooting from deep.
The Golden bears have the eighth-worst assist percentage of 41.6 (the percentage of field goals that are assisted). Their opponents assist on 61 percent of their made field goals, a top-25 mark.
Keep an eye on
— Stanford junior forward Reid Travis has taken steps in each of his seasons. While his efficiency has dropped off from shooting 58 percent from the floor a year ago to 53 percent this season, he’s getting to the foul line more, taking the occasional three-point shot and passing better as defenses key on him.
“He’s a load down there. He’s physical. He’s experienced. He’s showing more perimeter game than in the past,” Hurley said. “They’re a balanced team.”
Travis is averaging 20.1 points, 7.3 rebounds and 1.5 assists per game.
— Stanford freshman forward Oscar da Silva doesn’t pop out in box scores — at least not in one category. He’s averaging 5.6 points, 5.7 rebounds 1.5 assists and 1.1 blocks per game. The German product is also shooting 49 percent overall and 52 percent from three-point range. His advanced stats peg him as a defensive standout as a 6-foot-9 energy player.
— California senior center Marcus Lee transferred from Kentucky and is averaging 12.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game. While Cal has struggled with leading scorer Don Coleman shooting just 36 percent from the field and no other player averaging more than 13.7 points per game, it’s Lee and center Kingsley Okoroh (2.2 blocks per game) who could provide a tough matchup in the paint for ASU’s driving guards, and Arizona 7-footers Deandre Ayton and Dusan Ristic.
Time, TV and radio
– Wednesday, 9 p.m., at Stanford (Pac-12 Networks, 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station)
– Saturday, 8:30 p.m., at California (Pac-12 Networks, 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station)
– Wednesday, 7 p.m., at California (Pac-12 Networks)
– Saturday, 2 p.m., at Stanford (CBS)