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Arizona-Stanford: Three things to watch

Sean Miller

Sean Miller is hoping to make good memories on the 40th anniversary celebration of McKale Center. Photo by Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

The Arizona Wildcats are celebrating 40 years of McKale Center tonight, taking on Stanford at 7 p.m.

The Cats are 516-101 at McKale.

“Our tradition is second to none. It seems like every historic basketball program has that one Hall of Fame coach, which we certainly have, the great teams, players, etc., a rabid fan base and that historic home court that seems to be a part of its legacy,” coach Sean Miller said, with a nod to former coach Lute Olson.

“When you think of Kentucky, you think of Rupp Arena. When you think of Duke you think of Cameron Indoor Stadium. There are very few that you put in that category and you know the name of their arena.

“Here at the University of Arizona, life at McKale Center hasn’t been very fun for our opponents over a long, long 40-year period of time.

Here are three things to watch as Arizona goes for win No. 517:

1. Stanford’s shooting

This is the first thing Miller mentioned when talking about the Cardinal (14-8, 5-4). Stanford is hitting 44.9 percent of its 3-point shots (70 of 156) through the first nine games of conference play.

Sophomore guard Chasson Randle has made 18 of 36 from behind the arc, and junior big man John Gage is 17 of 26.

“There might not be a team in a conference right now, halfway through, that has a higher shooting percentage from three than Stanford,” Miller said.

“Any time that you shoot the ball at that level from three, and you do it through nine games, you’re not only a dangerous team, but you’re an excellent team. … They are playing with an incredible amount of confidence there, and we have to be able to take that away or at least do a very good job of dealing with their percentage.”

Defending the 3-point shot has been an issue for the Cats, but they have been better in that area lately. For the season, Arizona is allowing teams to shoot just 39.8 percent overall.

Which is right where Miller likes it.

“If we can hold teams to under 40, that’s excellent,” he said. “This is our best defensive team out of the four that we’ve had.”

2. Kaleb Tarczewski’s improvement

The freshman 7-footer is working on his best stretch of the season and faces another tricky defensive matchup against a versatile and skilled Stanford front line that includes 6-10 Dwight Powell and springy 6-7 Josh Huestis.

Powell averages a team-best 14.4 points and 7.7 rebounds. Huestis is at 9.6 and 9.3.

“It’s a dilemma,” Miller said of the matchups.

“Equally, I’m sure, it feels like it is a dilemma for them. Kaleb can really put your player in foul trouble. I think it’s important that we get Kaleb the ball, that he can get the ball himself with offensive rebounding and being physical because the size advantage he has can negate some of the things that they have on their end.”

Tarzcewski has scored 10 points in three consecutive games and his confidence is up.

“With big guys, that light comes on at different times in their career,” Miller said.

“I think that Kaleb — in his own mind, not mine — hit rock bottom after the UCLA game. He didn’t feel he played particularly well. I think there was a long line of players and coaches who didn’t perform well.

“But from that moment on, having watched him in practice and having a couple of talks with him, I think he refocused for a great stretch run … The thing you don’t realize with Kaleb is how much of an impact he has defensively. He was really doing all of that prior to scoring. It’s just that everybody notices when you score more.”

3. Grant Jerrett’s foot

Freshman forward Grant Jerrett, coming off a four-block game at Washington State, missed practice this week and had a foot in a protective boot.

Miller said Jerrett had a bit of pain in the foot and the team decided to be very cautious and “preventative” about a potential problem with a stress reaction.

Miller said everything checked out fine with the foot and that it seemed as if Jerrett was still in line to play tonight, but we’ll see exactly how cautious the coaches and trainers decide to be. The Cats have had good luck with injuries so far this season.

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