It’s probably safe to say that the surging Arizona Wildcats have caught the attention of Stanford’s top-ranked women’s basketball team.
The Cats are coming up fast in the Cardinal’s rearview mirror.
The two Pac-12 teams will meet tonight in a clash that features No. 6-ranked UofA hosting the No. 1 Cardinal in a game that could be the truly defining accomplishment of the Adia Barnes era.
(Oops…looks like Arizona isn’t ready yet for primetime. Stanford ran out to a 24-points lead by halftime and never looked back, rolling to an 81-54 rout. The Cats will get a second chance at the Cardinal in a Feb. 22 rematch.)
That would, of course, take a victory. But it’s not much of a stretch to envision that happening. The Wildcats finished last season ranked No. 12 in the final NCAA polls and came into the 2020-21 season ranked No. 7 in the nation, and have begun climbing the ladder with each win.
Barnes, in her fifth year directing the Arizona program, has assembled a team that has the potential of engineering a major upset of the top team in the nation. The Cats are undefeated (7-0) and on a roll.
Actually, they’ve been on a roll the last couple of seasons. The Cats put together back-to-back 24-win records — the first time in program history that has happened — and have carried that momentum forward into this season.
They’ve been on a scoring roller coaster so far, winning four games by double digits, but then needing to squeeze out tight wins in the other three. They notched their marquee win of the season with a heart-stopping 78-77 win over then-No. 9 USC, and got past UCLA and Colorado with three-point victories.
The USC win marked the team’s third win in four games against top-10 teams. So the pressure of playing on the big stage hasn’t been a problem so far.
But playing Stanford is going to take that pressure up to another level.
Stanford, also undefeated with seven wins, has been a formidable force so far this season, averaging 93 points a game, scoring 100-plus three times. Their average margin of victory has been an eye-popping 48 points a game.
But they can be held in check. UCLA proved that in the Cardinal’s last game, holding Stanford to a season-low 61 points (almost 20 points below their worst offensive performance). Over the first six games, Stanford averaged 93 points a game.
And Arizona prides itself on its defensive play, holding opponents to 57.5 points a game.
But the Bruins managed just 49 points against Stanford. Nonetheless, they were down just six points in the third quarter and didn’t fall behind by double digits until late in the fourth when the Cardinal went on an 18-12 run.
So Stanford will be coming off a game in which they survived the closest game of the season. On the other hand, Arizona’s last game was a 96-42 blow-out of Idaho. The Cats built a 34-9 lead in the second quarter and then coasted the rest of the way.
It will be interesting to see which team is better prepared tonight…the one that got a wake-up call, or the one that could still be on a sugar high from its 54-point victory.
A loud, raucous crowd could make the difference tonight. And Wildcat Nation will fill McKale Center for this one.
(Photo: Arizona Athletics)