The last time the Arizona Wildcats went to the Bay area was also the last time they lost. Or at least felt like they did.
On Nov. 2, Arizona struggled in a closed scrimmage at Saint Mary’s. While it wasn’t officially scored, it was safe to say that UA coach Sean Miller didn’t leave there thinking the Wildcats would go 20-0.
“Probably not,” Miller said, with a slight grin. “But it wasn’t that the scrimmage was a disaster. It was what you want to get out of a scrimmage. Obviously we played against a really good team, a well-coached team, and took our team out of their comfort zone of McKale and Tucson. We learned a lot about our team.”
Tonight’s game will be a long-awaited homecoming for San Francisco product Brandon Ashley, who left Oakland’s Bishop O’Dowd to play his senior season at Nevada’s Findlay Prep and didn’t get to play at Stanford or Cal as a freshman because of a scheduling bye.
“I haven’t played in the Bay for a while, so it’s definitely something I look forward to,” Ashley said. “Get to play in front of a lot of people I grew up with and lived with, so I’m excited about it.”
There’s only one problem: While he’s there, Ashley won’t get to revel in any Super Bowl hype, because his beloved 49ers lost to Seattle in the NFC title game.
“That was rough. That was rough,” Ashley said. “But I’m moving on from that.”
The Bay-area swing is also a return home for forward Aaron Gordon of San Jose and guard Elliott Pitts of Dublin, Calif.
Pitts will be returning home with only seven games of experience, having been on the outside of Miller’s increasingly tight rotation, but Miller says that could change this weekend. Or any time, really.
Miller used only eight players against Colorado and seven against Utah but said his staff is still keeping Pitts, guard Jordin Mayes, and forward Matt Korcheck ready in case sudden injury or foul trouble arise.
“It’s hard to change what’s worked,” Miller said of his lineup. “Elliott in particular is practicing hard and well. He’s a guy with a bright future. You’re one injury or a foul situation away from that player moving in, so readiness is a number we’re using with a number of guys.”
Having them ready could help what Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak says is somewhat of an “Achilles’ heel” for Arizona.
“They haven’t been overly deep,” he said. “So if you can get somebody into foul trouble, and make them go with some lineups they’re not comfortable with, that would help (an opposing team), for sure.”
Maybe they’re due
Stanford players haven’t had many good experiences against Arizona.
No current Stanford player has totaled more than 12 baskets against Arizona. In four career games each, Dwight Powell has averaged 9.2 points on 40-percent shooting, while Josh Huestis has 21 rebounds and 20 points on 7-for-21 shooting.
Anthony Brown, Stanford’s 50-percent three-point shooter, has been just 3 of 18 from the field over three games.
Then there’s coach Johnny Dawkins. He’s lost seven straight to UA and presumably hasn’t enjoyed scouting the Wildcats on video this season.
“They are the best team I’ve seen since I’ve been coaching in the conference,” Dawkins said.