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Preview: Stanford meets the controversial ‘Cats

Trip to Tucson finds Zona in the midst of federal investigation

NCAA Basketball: Arizona at Stanford John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

Going into the final week of the regular season Stanford sits alone in third place in the PAC. Depending on the results of the next few days, they may find themselves anywhere from second to sixth heading into the tournament. Barring losses to both Stanford and Cal, in addition to USC defeating UCLA, Arizona will win the regular season title.

The Wildcats will likely play this game without Allonzo Trier, as the conference’s second leading scorer is suspended for a positive PED test. Trier tested positive for this same drug last year and missed Arizona’s first 19 games. His camp contends he inadvertently took the drug a year ago, and that it never left his blood. Medical experts disagree. Regardless, they will be without his services on Thursday. He scored 21 points in the first meeting between these schools.

Head Coach Sean Miller will probably not be on the sidelines for the Cats. The fans will miss out on his otherworldly amounts of sweat and over-the-top harassing of officials thanks to an FBI investigation. According to ESPN, the FBI has a wiretap recording of Miller discussing the payment of $100k to DeAndre Ayton. Arizona launched a brief internal investigation and opted to allow Ayton to play, as they found no proof of his receiving of such a payment. In Miller’s place will be Lorenzo Romar, whose firing at the University of Washington paved the way for Daejon Davis to commit to Stanford.

Arizona is coming off a rough Oregon road trip, where they defeated the 9th place Beavers in overtime before falling to the Ducks in another extra period game. This Wildcat team is not particularly deep and has few players it can call on to get a timely bucket. The absence of Trier certainly loomed large. In the game against Oregon, the Arizona bench attempted just four shots from the field despite the game going to overtime.

Stanford enters the game as an 8.5 point underdog. They are fresh off a home (and season) sweep of the Washington schools. In the first meeting against Arizona, Stanford held the lead in the final minute of the game before Arizona pulled out a tough 73-71 win. Daejon Davis missed the entire second half, which certainly played a factor.

The most important player in this game for Stanford is Michael Humphrey. The two-headed front court of Ristic and Ayton is one of the best in America. His defense and ability to stay out of foul trouble will be critical. Arizona got just five bench points in the January meeting, and that player (Dylan Smith) is a starter in the absence of Trier. If Humphrey, Reid Travis, and others can find a way to get some early fouls on Ayton again, the Cardinal’s upset hopes will be very strong.

A win for Stanford guarantees no worse than fifth place in the conference. They are most interested in finishing within the top four, though, as that would mean securing a first round bye next week. Stanford’s long-shot tournament hopes rest squarely on winning the tournament, so seeding may play a big factor in their Cinderella bid.

For Arizona, a win clinches the conference title and shows the tournament committee that all is not lost without Trier and Miller. Of course if the reports from the FBI are true, this will all eventually be for naught, as this season (and likely others) may be vacated. Assistant coach Book Richardson has already been implicated by the Bureau.