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January 29, 2014
No. 1 Wildcats 'embrace' target on the road
Brandon Ashley has yet to play in front of his friends and family in the Bay Area as a collegian. In his first season, Arizona did not have the trip to the Northern California schools on its schedule as part of the Pac-12 Conference's rotation.
But it's been longer than that since the San Francisco native returned home. Ashley left Oakland (Calif.) Bishop O'Dowd High School after his junior year and transferred to powerhouse Las Vegas Findlay Prep for his final season.
"I haven't played in the Bay in a while," Ashley said, unsure of the expected number of supporters he will have at Stanford and California this week. "So it's definitely something I'm really looking forward to. I get to play in front of a lot of people that I grew up with and lived with. So I'm really excited about it."
The 6-8 sophomore forward will bring with him the No. 1-ranked Wildcats (20-0, 7-0 Pac-12 Conference), who have two other Northern California products on the the roster in freshmen Aaron Gordon and Elliott Pitts.
First up will be the Cardinal (13-6, 4-3 Pac-12), who will look to become that first team to blemish the record of one of the nation's three remaining undefeated teams. Wednesday's tipoff at Maples Pavilion is scheduled for 6:05 p.m. PT.
"We have to do it together," Stanford head coach Johnny Dawkins said of the task of taking down Arizona, which also is off to its best start in conference play in more than a decade.
Part of the reason is because of the injuries that have mounted for a team with hopes of returning to the NCAA tournament for the first time in six seasons - which also would be the first appearance since Dawkins took over the program in 2008-09.
Andy Brown, Christian Sanders and Aaron Bright are all out for the season. But Dawkins said his team is not about making excuses.
The Cardinal come in with victories in four of their last five games, most recently a 79-71 win at USC on Sunday.
Junior guard Chasson Randle has shouldered the scoring load, averaging 19. 1 points to rank third in the conference. Senior forward Dwight Powell has provided production across the board, ranking 16th in the Pac-12 in scoring (14.3 points) and in the top 10 in both rebounds (7.8) and assists (3.9).
In the league, only Kyle Anderson of UCLA has posted better all-around numbers than Powell in the three categories.
"They seem to have a really good chemistry about them," said UA head coach Sean Miller, who is 6-0 in his career against Stanford. "Chasson Randle has scored 30 or more points twice. Dwight Powell shoots eight free throws a game. [Powell] really came on a year ago and he's gotten even better.
"So we're playing against a veteran team, a talented team that has as much experience as anybody. I think this is a big opportunity for both teams here on Wednesday."
But while Arizona will bring in a team that is heavy on freshmen and sophomores, its junior backcourt of Nick Johnson and T.J. McConnell has led the way.
Johnson is coming off perhaps his best performance of the season in Sunday's 65-56 win over Utah. With the Wildcats trailing by two approaching the midway point of the second half, the 6-3 guard scored eight of his game-high 22 points during the decisive 14-2 run to pull away.
It was Johnson's seventh 20-point game of the season.
The duo has been just as effective away from McKale Center this season. In six games - including a pair of neutral-court contests at Madison Square Garden in November - Johnson and McConnell have combined to average 28.2 points and 8.7 assists.
In the Wildcats' most recent opportunity Jan. 12 at USC, they turned in their best road performance with 34 points on 13-of-25 shooting - including a combined eight 3-pointers - to go with nine assists.
"I think as a team, we like the feeling of it being us versus everyone else there, except for maybe a few fans," McConnell said of the team's road success. "We kind of embrace that."
GOAZCATS.com Senior Editor
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