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NCAAW Preview: No. 1 Stanford gets tough test in No. 6 Arizona

The No. 1 Stanford Cardinal continue their trek through the ultra-competitive Pac-12, taking on Player of the Year candidate Aari McDonald and the No. 6 Arizona Wildcats on New Year’s Day.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: FEB 22 Women’s Arizona at Stanford
The health of Stanford’s Kiana Williams will be of the utmost importance in a matchup against Arizona’s Aari McDonald.
Photo by Cody Glenn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The No. 1 Stanford Cardinal (7-0, 4-0 Pac-12) return from winter break this New Year’s Day to take on the No. 6 Arizona Wildcats (7-0, 5-0 Pac-12) in what figures to be a matchup between two of the Pac-12’s — and the country’s — best teams.

Stanford was last in action on Dec. 21, 2020 when it defeated the rival UCLA Bruins 61-49 — a score that was perhaps not completely indicative of how well the Cardinal played. Stanford held UCLA to just 27.5 percent shooting in the game, allowed only eight free throw attempts and outrebounded the Bruins 37-22, earning head coach Tara VanDerveer her 1,101st career victory.

Oh, and Cardinal forward Fran Belibi dunked — again.

VanDerveer, Belibi and the rest of the Cardinal will once again need to be on top of their respective games on Jan. 1, because the Wildcats are no slouches, either. Arizona has opened the 2020-21 season with seven straight victories, outscoring opponents by an average of 23.7 points per 100 possessions (per Her Hoop Stats) while blocking six shots per game (12th in the nation).

The head of the Arizona snake remains guard Aari McDonald. McDonald was named to the media’s preseason All-Pac-12 team, as well as the AP preseason All-American list and the preseason Ann Meyers Drysdale Award watch list, and her play has thus far as good as advertised: She’s averaging better than 20 points per game for the third consecutive season, and leads Arizona in both assists (4.6) and steals (2.6) per game.

Stanford’s defense remains fierce (69 points allowed per 100 possessions — seventh in the nation), and you can bet that the legendary VanDerveer will have a game plan to make life difficult on McDonald. We’ll see if the Wildcats’ superstar can lead them to what would be a statement victory over the top-ranked team in the nation.

Game information

No. 1 Stanford Cardinal (7-0, 4-0 Pac-12) vs. No. 6 Arizona Wildcats (7-0, 5-0 Pac-12)

When: Friday, Jan. 1, at 7:00 p.m. ET

Where: McKale Center; Tucson, AZ

How to watch: Pac-12 Networks

Keys to the matchup: While Stanford teams have typically known for their egalitarian style of basketball over the years, there’s one individual VanDerveer really needs to show up. Guard Kiana Williams — who has made some noise as a WNBA Draft prospect — was injured late in the Cardinal’s game against UCLA, exiting with what appeared to be a lower leg injury. If she’s healthy enough to match up against the pick-and-roll maestra McDonald, it will open things up for the rest of Stanford’s talent, Belibi and Haley Jones in particular. Another matchup to keep your eye on is Arizona forward and preseason All-Pac-12 nominee Cate Reese versus Stanford freshman center Cameron Brink, who is currently averaging 6.7 rebounds and 2.1 blocked shots in just 15.1 minutes of action.