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Thursday March 8, 2001

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By Keith Carmona

Arizona Daily Wildcat

Wildcats, Cardinal mirror images heading into final weekend of regular season

Stanford is the unanimous No. 1 team in the country - they've only lost one game all season, and they play in one of the most deafening arenas in the country.

But when the floors are shaking and the backboards are swaying from the "Maples Maniacs" jumping up and down, don't tell the No. 8 Arizona Wildcats they're the underdogs.

"I think they should be worried about us," said senior forward Gene Edgerson. "We have big guns, just like they have big guns. They have to be more worried about us than we are concerned about them because we're playing better right now."

It's hard to make an argument that anyone is playing better than Stanford right now, but Edgerson is correct in thinking that his team couldn't have timed their road trip to Palo Alto, Calif., any better.

Three of the last four Arizona victories have come by at least 30 points, including Saturday's 104-65 victory against Oregon.

Stanford and Arizona are atop the national rankings and the Pacific 10 Conference for good reason - according to both head coaches, the same reasons.

"They are a heck of a lot like us in that they can put it on the floor, they can hit the outside shot and have depth in their bench," UA head coach Lute Olson said. "We both have versatility at our positions and great athletes running the floor. It has the makings for a great college basketball game."

The similarities are uncanny.

Arizona and Stanford rank as the two top teams in eight of the Pac-10's major statistical categories.

In everything from scoring offense to scoring defense, from rebounding to free throws, the Cardinal and Wildcats come into the game neck-and-neck.

Sophomore guard Jason Gardner said watching Stanford play is almost like glancing in a mirror.

"They make it really hard on teams because they have an inside presence and they can hit you outside, too," he said. "When you double-down on the players inside, they've got guys surrounding the perimeter. They are a lot like us, so it just matters who's putting the ball in the bucket."

To counter UA's crisp passing point guard Gardner, Stanford has Mike McDonald. Casey Jacobsen - like Arizona's junior forward Richard Jefferson - is an all-around athlete who punishes on both sides of the floor.

However, the disparities begin when searching for the Wildcats' duplicate of Stanford's Collins Twins.

Jason Collins, a 7-foot, 260-pound center, and his brother, Jarron, a 6-11, 255- pound power forward, have tortured the Pac-10's big men for a combined 27 points and 15 rebounds each game.

"The Collins twins cause a lot of problems because they play so well together and are guys that have been big winners all their lives," Olson said. "And they are twins. They know what the other guy is going to do before he even does it."

But Olson has mapped out a strategy that has the Wildcats thinking they can reduce the severity of the havoc wreaked by the Collins Twins.

"You have got to use your quickness to counter what they are trying to do," Edgerson said. "You have got to get them away from the basket, and since they are two big guys, generally teams are not able to push them off of the block. But I think that we have guys who can play fairly well against them because of our quickness."

Grappling with Jason Collins will be done by a committee of junior forward Michael Wright, Edgerson and senior forward Justin Wessel.

UA's 7-1 senior center Loren Woods gets the unenviable task of handling Jarron.

"It's a tough matchup for Loren because both Jarron and Jason are physically very big," Olson said. "There is no question that Loren has quickness over both, but if it gets into positioning, Loren will have a hard time establishing position. I would suggest that (Loren) not get into a wrestling match, he's just going to have to move his feet."

Even though the Cardinal's home-court advantage will be tremendous and they've already discovered the formula for upending the Wildcats (85-76 on Jan. 6), Stanford head coach Mike Montgomery believes that UA's emotions can make for menacing results.

"I know that they would like to right the ship as far as losing to us at home," he said. "But I don't think they are going to do anything appreciably different, and I don't know if they need to do anything appreciably different to defeat us."

Montgomery's team even reflects the lofty academic reputation Stanford University carries.

"These guys are smart," said sophomore forward Luke Walton. "When you are watching their games and rooting for them to lose, they always do the things they have to do to win. They are never forcing shots up toward the end of games, they just stay within their offense, and they get what comes to them."

As the final weekend before the NCAA Tournament nears, a victory over the nation's top team would help Arizona achieve the ever-coveted higher seed.

Olson has other plans in mind.

"The important thing for us is that we play well," he said. "If that means wins, that's wonderful. If it means that we win two and don't play well, then that's not what we need to do."

Don't tell that to Gardner, though.

"If we don't play well either game and come out with two wins, I'll take it," he said. "They got us at a down point of our season, and not that we weren't ready for them, but we did have a lot going on. A lot of people have been talking bad about us, so it is time for revenge."