Stanford, Arizona meet with first place at stake
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Stanford coach Jerod Haase has a problem many have faced this season -- 7-foot-1 freshman Deandre Ayton, Arizona's man-child who has been sensational this season.
"They not only have one but two 7-footers," said Haase as his Cardinal prepared to host No. 14 Arizona on Saturday in a game between teams tied for first place in the Pac-12. "They have 14 feet of big guys. It's a heck of a challenge."
Senior Dusan Ristic is the other 7-footer, but Ayton is getting most of the attention.
Ayton is one of just three players who is averaging more than 20 points and 10 rebounds while shooting better than 60 percent from the field this season. Specifically, Ayton is averaging 20.2 points and 11.3 rebounds while shooting 63.9 percent from the floor.
Haase said was he's not certain you can stop a player "that big and that skilled" but "you try to limit the effectiveness."
Stanford (11-8, 5-1 in Pac-12) might be a team that could do it, as it has some size and is more athletic than usual.
It's also riding a confidence-filled five-game win streak, its longest since 2014-15, and is coming off an 86-77 win over No. 16 Arizona State. The streak is also Stanford's longest in conference play in 10 years, since the Cardinal won seven straight in 2007-08.
"We have confidence in our guys and have a front court that has experience and some length, size, bulk and skill," Haase said.
He has 6-foot-8, 245-pound junior Reid Travis and 6-8 freshman Kezie Okpala, and 7-foot reserve center Josh Sharma is coming off his best performance of the season in the win over Arizona State.
It helps also that Stanford is healthy. Senior Dorian Pickens has returned from an ankle injury, and Daejon Davis, who had intended to play for Lorenzo Romar at Washington before he was fired, has played well after missing four games with an injury.
"If you judge them on when they've had their entire team, I think they're one of the best teams in the conference," Arizona coach Sean Miller told the Arizona Daily Star Friday.
With their current win streak, the Cardinal will face Arizona (15-4, 5-1) with the conference lead at stake.
Miller said Stanford would have "two or three" more wins if it had been healthy all season.
"In the six games they've played in the conference, they've been exceptional," Miller said. "We look at them as a team that's contending for first place."
It is similar to the days of Pac-10 -- when Stanford under Mike Montgomery and Arizona under Lute Olson fought for titles.
It might not be as dramatic, given that Miller has never lost to the Cardinal since arriving at Arizona in 2009-10, going 14-0.
"It's a big deal," Haase said of the game. "A big-time game against one of the elite programs in the country."
Arizona sophomore forward Rawle Alkins, who didn't play in Wednesday's 79-58 victory at California after suffering some soreness in his right foot that was broken, will play in Saturday's game, Miller told the Arizona Daily Star.
"Alkins had some soreness in his foot, which we knew could happen," Miller said. "When you get it, it's important that we deal with that in the short term in a smart way and give it a couple of days to calm down."
Alkins will likely replace Dylan Smith in the starting lineup. Smith had a season-high 14 points against Cal.
Updated January 19, 2018