Diminished rivals square off

By Roman Veytsman
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday, January 19, 2006

Make no mistake about it; Stanford has been Arizona's biggest basketball rival over the last decade.

ASU simply has not had a team of a caliber to compete with the Wildcats, boasting more teams that weren't much more than one-man shows, with the likes of Mario Bennett, Eddie House and Ike Diogu.

UCLA, long-since removed from its days of domination under legendary head coach John Wooden, fell off the map at times with a few disappointing seasons, but the Cardinal has remained the consistent archenemy for Arizona (10-6, 3-3 Pacific 10 Conference) all along.

This year's matchup has lost some of that luster, however, as it will be the first time neither team stands in the national rankings since 1987.

Stanford (7-6, 3-2) started the season ranked No. 13 with their big three seniors Chris Hernandez, Dan Grunfeld and Matt Haryasz all back in uniform, but disappointing losses to UC Irvine, UC Davis, and Montana derailed the Cardinal's hopes for a better start than they got off to last season.

Even more importantly, Stanford wasn't just beaten but shellacked by 16 against Irvine and 19 by Montana.

"It surprised me a little bit knowing them," freshman forward Marcus Williams said. "I think they were ranked pretty high coming into the preseason. You always know they're going to be a tough team during the Pac-10."

In the first two games of the Pac-10 season, Stanford didn't play much better, losing by 17 to UCLA and falling by 11 to USC, but their season has turned around for the better. The Cardinal have won three straight, beating both Oregon schools (Arizona lost to both), and handily taking care of then-conference-leading California by 14, albeit all on their home floor of Maples Pavilion.

Grunfeld, a 6-foot-6 senior guard, torched Arizona last season in both games. He scored 29 at home while shooting 10-of-12 from the field in a Stanford upset and added 23 on the road in a Stanford loss.

"We [need] to take him away from doing the things he likes to do, which we did the second game at home (last season)," junior point guard Mustafa Shakur said.

Grunfeld, Stanford's leading scorer last season at 17.9 points per game, suffered a season-ending knee injury late in the year and has seen his scoring average dip to 13.4 this season. Still, as he gets back into better game shape, Grunfeld presents a dangerous weapon because of his ability to create angles against more athletic defenders.

"I want to crowd him," Williams said. "Not really let him catch the ball and ... play smart because obviously he'll take advantage if you're out of position a little bit. You have to force him to be athletic and make him drive by you and make athletic shots in the lane against our tall guys in the middle."

Joining Grunfeld is fifth-year senior point guard Hernandez, who first came to Stanford when some of Arizona's players were still in middle school. Hernandez is the unquestioned leader of the Cardinal and a capable scorer who just poured in 20 points against Cal, making all five of his 3-point field goal attempts.

"We need to make Chris Hernandez take tough shots and do the best we can to slow him up," Williams said.

Hernandez averaged 18 points and four assists in two games against Arizona last season.

"He plays hard and he knows a lot of little things he can get away with on the court ... to make himself effective," Shakur said.

"It's not going to be an easy job but I'm looking forward to that challenge of guarding him or anyone else on Stanford," he added.

Stanford's leading scorer is an Arizona native, 6-foot-11 Haryasz, who hails from Page. Haryasz was recruited by Wildcat head coach Lute Olson, but Arizona did not have a scholarship to offer him at the time.

"There was no question in my mind he was going to be a really good player, and we wouldn't have watched him as much as we did if we didn't feel that way," Olson said. "I think he's had a great opportunity at Stanford and he's taken advantage of it."

Haryasz averages 17 points per game and is coming off a 24-point, 10-rebound performance against Cal.

"He's playing great," Olson said. "Matt has gotten better every year. Right now, he's really playing physically, which was not a strength with him before. He's long and active and quick, but now he's added strength to that and a lot more confidence."

Stanford did lose a few unsung heroes from last season's team in big man Rob Little and wing Nick Robinson, but freshman Lawrence Hill (from Glendale) and sophomore forward Taj Finger have been adequate replacements.

"They're really good at running their stuff and getting open shots, so we really just need to get up in them and force them to be really athletic and make sure they can't run their plays the way they want," Williams said.

The Cardinal will look to slow it down and get into half-court sets to offset Arizona's transition game, but Stanford head coach Trent Johnson does look to push the ball more than his predecessor Mike Montgomery.

Haryasz will likely get many touches down low if Stanford is to be successful, so the Wildcats will try to prevent Haryasz from getting easy looks in the paint.

"With other teams that we played it's been mostly perimeter guys, where you take a look at Haryasz's numbers ... that's going to take our big guys to step up and get some things done," Olson said.