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There's one on every team: the guy who seems like he's been playing at his school forever, and in some cases, beating your school forever, too.
When the No. 11-ranked Runnin' Utes suit up against Stanford on Thursday, it might feel like an accomplishment in its own right: It's probably the last time Utah has to plan for senior Chasson Randle, the Pac-12's leading scorer (20.3 ppg) and a Wooden Award candidate along with Utah's own senior star Delon Wright.
But there is one thing Utah can do differently: stop him. Historically, it has been a tough task.
"We just have to really dial in because he can do a lot of things," said junior Brandon Taylor, who is seeing Randle for the fourth time. "He can shoot. He can attack. He picks his spots on the floor very, very well."
Utah's defense has been its hallmark this season, and it's been especially tough for guards. The Utes have the Pac-12's third-best 3-point defense, holding opponents to under 32 percent shooting from deep. Only four players have scored 20 or more points against Utah this season.
Some of the league's most dangerous scorers, including Washington State's DaVonte Lacy and Washington's Nigel Williams-Goss, have failed to reach their scoring averages against the Utes' backcourt. Even those who have managed to rack up some points, such as BYU's Tyler Haws, did not find it easy. Haws scored 23 points in December on 9-for-22 shooting.
But Randle is a special kind of menace. Take last season, in Utah's regular-season finale, when he hit 7 of 10 shots in Stanford's one-point victory. He hit from deep and short, and he led the Cardinal with three assists as well. He also forced the final turnover with a second left to win the game.
Randle has a flair for the big moment, when it comes to Utah. In five meetings, he has led Stanford to a 4-1 record and averages over 18 points per game while shooting 49 percent.
"We all guarded him," Wright said of the previous meeting. "He's a tough cover. He averages 20 points. He's going to get shots up; we just have to make it tough."
Randle is used to the attention, and used to brushing it off. He's scored in double digits in 16 straight games headed into Thursday.
It helps, he said, to have threats around him. Fellow seniors forward Stefan Nastic and guard Anthony Brown an AAU teammate of Wright's also average double-digit scoring. Together, the trio is the highest scoring senior unit of any team in the nation. Nastic's inside presence and Brown's 3-point shooting help draw attention away from Randle's threat, and vice versa.
But Randle recognizes how much he's singled out, too. And he embraces it.
"It's an honor when teams respect you the way they do," he said. "It's just been my teammates getting me involved in the game, and other teams have to respect that."
There is a different dynamic to this game: Stanford is trying to reassert itself as a conference contender and a NCAA-tournament team after dropping two of its past three games. Upsetting Utah, which is tied with Arizona for first place, would be a significant win on its postseason resume. The Utes, meanwhile, want to earn separation from the m remain atop the league.
To borrow a Larry Krystkowiak colloquialism, Randle is "the head of the snake." Randle knows it, and he hopes to bite again.
"It's a great opportunity for our team," he said. "We're aware Utah is a great team with a lot of good players, and they're defending their home court very well. It will be a tough matchup for us."
Stanford at No. 11 Utah
At the Huntsman Center
Tipoff • 7 p.m.
TV • Pac-12 Network Radio • ESPN 700 AM
Records • Stanford (16-7, 7-4); Utah (18-4, 8-2)
Series history • Utah leads, 15-11
Last meeting • March 8, 2014 at Stanford; Stanford 61, Utah 60
About the Cardinal • Stanford is 2-2 this season against ranked opponents, with wins over Texas and Washington and losses to Arizona and Duke. … Senior guard Chasson Randle is the leading scorer in the Pac-12 with 20.3 ppg and has scored in double digits in 16 straight games. … The Cardinal are shooting 40.3 percent from 3-point range, second-best in the Pac-12, and they are led by senior Anthony Brown (46.4 percent).
About the Utes • On Wednesday, senior guard Delon Wright was named among 20 semifinalists for the Wooden Award. … The Utes lead the Pac-12 in both offensive points per possession (1.135) and defensive points per possession (0.856), and ranked in the top nine nationally in each category. … Utah's home winning streak is 15 games, the longest winning streak at the Huntsman Center since Utah won 21 straight in a 2004-05 stretch.