What to watch: Stanford at UCLA

Stanford (12-5, 3-2) at UCLA (14-4, 3-2)
Thursday, 8 p.m., Pauley Pavilion
TV: Pac-12 Networks (Ted Robinson, Don MacLean, Yogi Roth)
Radio: AM 570 (Chris Roberts, Tracy Murray)

No. 1: Pace. UCLA’s halfcourt offense has been a work in progress all season, as both coach Steve Alford and his players have acknowledged at one point or another. The Bruins like to run, but despite chucking up 129 shots in their last two games, converted on just over 40 percent of them. The sharp drop from their season-long average (50.2 percent) may be due to opposing playbooks as much as the their own execution; freshman guard Zach LaVine said this week that more teams were trying to limit UCLA’s transition opportunities.

Stanford plays at a tempo slightly above the national average, but that’s mostly due to their short possessions on offense — 15.8 seconds, not far behind UCLA’s 14.8. On defense, the Cardinal balance long possessions (19.2 seconds) with relatively high efficiency (57th in the country). Most notable is that they hold opponents to 43.5 percent on 2-point shots, third in the Pac-12 behind Arizona and Cal.

*Another trend to watch: UCLA took just eight free throws against Utah, the first time the Bruins took fewer than 12 free throws in a game. The team’s free throw rate ranks 241st in college basketball. Stanford allowed 14 combined attempts at the line last weekend against Washington and Washington State.

No. 2: Sharing the ball. When trying to point out positives this season, Alford has frequently mentioned UCLA’s assist-to-turnover ratio. He’s right; the Bruins’ 1.63 ratio ranks first in the Pac-12, and 10th in the country. That it had just 27 assists to 25 turnovers at Colorado and Utah looks, for now at least, to be an anomaly.

Stanford also isn’t shabby in this department. In conference play, the Cardinal are second with a 1.50 average. Chasson Randle is the team’s preeminent offensive threat, but the engine that makes everything go is senior forward Dwight Powell.

The 6-foot-10 Canadian is one of the conference’s most versatile big men, and has taken his playmaking ability up a notch this season. His 4.2 assists per game leads his team by a significant margin, and his assist rate ranks 13th in the Pac-12. UCLA’s Kyle Anderson, who ranks fourth, is the only other player in the top 15 taller than 6-foot-5.

If Stanford can’t generate steals, though, the assist-to-turnover edge should go to UCLA. The Cardinal force turnovers on just 16.7 percent of defensive possessions, worse than 306 other teams in the country.

No. 3: Will Jordan Adams find his groove? While his rebounds (5.8) and steals (3.2) have been invaluable, the sophomore wing has seen his scoring average drop with almost each passing game over the past six weeks. Since conference play began, he has gone two games without taking a free throw: a blowout win over USC, and last weekend’s loss at Utah.

Anderson’s improvement as a shooter has helped lighten the load on Adams, but UCLA needs him to find holes down the lane to keep a winning conference record.

Stanford starting lineup
C — Stefan Nastic, Jr., 6-11, 245: 8.4 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 59.1 FG%
F — Dwight Powell, Sr., 6-10, 240: 14.2 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 4.2 apg
F — Josh Huestis, Sr, 6-7, 230: 10.9 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 2.1 bpg
G — Anthony Brown, Jr., 6-6, 215: 13.2 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 50.9 3P%
G — Chasson Randle, Jr., 6-2, 185: 19.5 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 2.2 apg

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