Men’s basketball seeks second Top 5 upset in two weeks

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On Thursday night, Stanford Men’s Basketball (10-5, 3-2 Pac-12) will host the Arizona Wildcats (3-1, 4-0 Pac-12) at Maples Pavilion. Having played three games in five days last week – including an underdog win over the then No.1. 5 USC – The Cardinal had a longer rest period this week to prepare for their next game.

Arizona has dominated Pac-12 competition, beating every Pac-12 team it has faced this season by at least 16 points. The Wildcats could very well be the best team the Cardinal has played so far, among a group that includes other impressive teams like No. 5 Baylor, No. 16 USC and No. 23 Texas.

Under first-year head coach Tommy Lloyd, the Wildcats have become one of the most surprising teams this season in basketball. Initially starting the season unranked, they quickly rose in the standings after dismantling some of last season’s top teams, such as Michigan and Illinois.

Arizona is led by 6-foot-6 sophomore guard Benedict Mathurin, who appears to be a favorite to win Pac-12 Player of the Year honors. Mathurin is currently averaging 18 points per game — good enough for second place in the Pac-12 — and 6.3 rebounds per game. Mathurin’s scoring sidekick, sophomore forward Azuolas Tubelis, helps lighten Mathurin’s scoring load averaging 15.9 points per game. Mathurin and Tubelis anchor an Arizona scoring offense that leads the league in points per game and is shooting a game-high 49.9 percent on field goals.

On defense, the Wildcats rely on 7-foot-1 junior center Christian Koloko to make it harder for opposing teams to score inside the paint. Koloko, who has a wingspan of 7ft 5in, has an elite combination of size and athleticism that makes it difficult for opposing big men to score. Koloko is a big part of why the Wildcats lead the Pac-12 in blocks, rebounds and opposing field goal percentage.

Arizona is a team with very few holes, and for the Cardinal to win this game, they have to play near perfect basketball.

On offense, Stanford’s leading scorers – freshman forward Harrison Ingram, junior forward Spencer Jones and senior forward Jaiden Delaire – must be selective with their shots around the rim and look to drive and distribute the ball basketball for more effective shots. The Cardinal also needs to shoot the ball well from the 3-point line, as the Wildcats don’t give up easy shots at the rim. The emergence of second Brandon Angel as a key contributor has been a positive development for Stanford, and his play will be important in this game as his size and versatility on the offensive end could force Arizona to expand their defense further.

Defensively, the Cardinal will have to figure out how to protect Arizona’s pick-and-roll offense. The Wildcats have multiple playmakers on offense, and Koloko is very effective on edge shots, leading the Pac-12 in field goal percentage. Stanford may have to compromise defensively and take a chance on letting some of the Wildcat’s less productive players try to beat him. The Cardinal must also prevent Arizona from taking the lead in transition, as the Wildcats thrive on transition offense.

Tipping is due Thursday at 8:00 p.m. PT at the Maples Pavilion.

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