STANFORD — There will be little time for Stanford guards Anthony Brown and Chasson Randle to exhale Thursday night when the Cardinal tries to end its nine-game losing streak to No. 7 Arizona.
“I”m a big believer that 22-year-old guys can run forever,” said Stanford coach Johnny Dawkins, who once was one of those guys as a star player at Duke.
Stanford”s run to the front of the Pac-12 (the Cardinal and Wildcats are a half-game behind Utah) has been fueled by the play of its senior backcourt duo.
Injuries have shortened the Cardinal”s bench, so Brown is leading the Pac-12 in minutes played in conference games (39.6 per game) and Randle is third (38.0). Dawkins has few options right now, but doesn”t see his players tiring.
“I also look at it from a player”s perspective,” he said. “You look at these guys and tell me they don”t want to be in the game. Are you kidding me? They want to be in there. I wanted to be in there.”
Brown, who has never beaten Arizona, said a Stanford victory “could be a huge steppingstone for us.” He doesn”t expect fatigue to be an issue.
“With all the adrenaline, I really don”t even think about it too much,” he said.
On the heels of an 18-point rout of Utah, Arizona (16-2, 4-1) arrives at Maples Pavilion equipped with size, a stout defense and a likely NBA lottery pick in freshman forward Stanley Johnson.
The Wildcats also boast enough depth that none of coach Sean Miller”s players averages even 30 minutes a game. For Stanford (13-4, 4-1), which has gotten just nine points from its bench the past two games, Brown, Randle and fellow senior Stefan Nastic must deliver.
And they have. Randle, 12 points shy of becoming the first Pac-12 player in 12 years to reach 2,000 career points, leads the conference with a 19.8 scoring average. Nastic has become almost indispensable in the wake of injuries to forwards Reid Travis (thigh) and Grant Verhoeven (hip).
And Brown, since scoring 25 points in an overtime win at Texas, has averaged 18.5 points and shot better than 50 percent from the 3-point line, helping Stanford win seven of eight games.
“I just realized when I”m aggressive, when I set the tone along with Chasson and Stefan, people follow, especially the younger guys,” Brown said.
Those three have provided nearly three-quarters of the team”s scoring in Pac-12 play, but they”ve had a tough time against Arizona, shooting a combined 30 percent the past three years. It was worse than that last season at Maples, where the Cardinal missed 12 of its final 13 shots in a 60-57 loss.
Miller is impressed by what he”s seen this season.
“Stanford is going to be in the NCAA tournament and they”re very capable of winning our conference,” he said. “They beat the defending national champions (Connecticut) and they”re having a great season.”
Perhaps no Stanford player will have a bigger burden Thursday night than Brown, whose responsibilities are expected to include defending the 6-foot-8, 240-pound Johnson, who will have a two-inch, 25-pound physical edge. Johnson is the Wildcats” top scorer and rebounder.
“Obviously, he”s one of the most talented freshmen in the country,” Brown said. “You have to keep him out of transition. He”s elite in transition. You have to know what he doesn”t like and try to bother him a little bit. I think my IQ can bother him.”
Dawkins, who suggested Brown should be considered for Pac-12 defensive player of the year, believes a senior has some advantages over even an exceptional first-year player.
“The experience has to count for something,” Dawkins said.
Arizona (16-2, 4-1 Pac-12)
at Stanford (13-4, 4-1),
6 p.m. ESPN2