AP – Though Arizona already clinched a second straight Pac-12 title, it’s poised to build even more momentum by ending a stellar regular season on a positive note.
Looking to extend the nation’s longest home winning streak to 38 games Saturday, the fifth-ranked Wildcats try for an 11th straight victory over a Stanford team that’s desperately in need of improving its NCAA tournament resume.
While Arizona (27-3, 15-2) is vying for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, coach Sean Miller wants his player to mentally remain in the moment. Coming off last weekend’s hard-fought 63-57 win at then-No. 13 Utah, the Wildcats avoided a letdown by rolling to a 99-60 home victory over California on Thursday.
“This weekend is a statement weekend,” said Miller, whose team became the school’s first to win back-to-back regular-season league titles since 1993 and ’94.
Since losing 81-78 at Arizona State on Feb. 7, Arizona has won seven straight while averaging 80.0 points and giving up an average of 56.6 and 36.3 percent shooting. The Wildcats made a clear statement of dominance Thursday by using a 29-8 run en route to a 21-point lead at halftime.
“We move on,” Miller said. “Stanford is playing for a lot. We’re finishing our regular season off the way we want to, and I think we’re going to be ready.”
Stanford’s 25-of-50 shooting performance during an 89-82 loss to Arizona on Jan. 22 was one of three times an opponent shot 50 percent or better against the Wildcats this season. Arizona, however, overcame a two-point halftime deficit by shooting 57.1 percent in the final 20 minutes.
“We have Stanford coming in on Saturday, we can’t overlook them,” said Arizona guard T.J. McConnell, who has totaled 21 points in the last three games but recorded 11 assists without a turnover Thursday.
While the Wildcats earned the top seed in next week’s conference tournament, Stanford (18-11, 9-8) currently sits fifth in the league but could drop a spot with a loss and an Arizona State victory over Cal on Saturday.
Losers in six of nine and looking to avoid a fifth straight road defeat after falling 67-62 to the Sun Devils on Thursday, the Cardinal likely need to pull off the upset Saturday and make a deep run in the league tournament to reach the NCAAs.
“Arizona is a good team, but all of the Pac-12 is,” Cardinal coach Johnny Dawkins said. “There are terrific teams all across this entire conference and we’re going to face another good one on Saturday.”
Second in the league at 19.2 points per game, Stanford’s Chasson Randle averaged 24.7 on 48.3-percent shooting over the final six games of January, including a 26-point performance despite going 7 of 18 against Arizona. Since that stretch, the senior guard is averaging 15.1 points and shooting 29.4 percent in eight games.
Likely not helping their cause, the Cardinal expect to be without 6-foot-9 freshman and Phoenix native Michael Humphrey after he suffered an ankle injury early in Thursday’s defeat. Humphrey started the last six games and recorded a pair of double-doubles.
“It’s a tough blow and came at an inopportune time for us,” Dawkins said.
Arizona’s leading scorer and rebounder Stanley Johnson (14.1 points, 6.7 rebounds per game) had 19 points with seven boards while Brandon Ashley scored 17 at Stanford. Ashley had 21 points Thursday.