Stanford is the most beguiling team in the NCAA tournament field. It is impossible to figure out Johnny Dawkins’ squad. An underwhelming Pac-12 regular season was followed by two quick wins in the league tournament until UCLA defeated the Cardinal by nearly 30 points. Paired against No. 7 New Mexico, though, and Stanford was able to score one of the tournament’s most underrated upsets, winning 58 to 53.
The game was a tutorial in cold shooting and zone defenses. Both teams were plagued by foul trouble — New Mexico’s Alex Kirk picked up two quick fouls, and Stanford’s Stefan Nastic and Josh Huestis each had four fouls (Dwight Powell fouled out) — and the two squads had to use 2-3 zones to cut down on the hacking. Stanford’s zone had a deleterious effect on the Lobos’ interior scoring; the team spent much of 2014 repairing the damage done to its two-point shooting rep last year (the team made 51.8 percent of its twos, as compared to 46 percent in ’13), but Stanford’s zone rendered both Cameron Bairstow and Alex Kirk ineffective. The junior Kirk scored just 3 points, and while Bairstow dropped 24 points, he failed to make a basket for about ten minutes in the second half.
New Mexico should be commended for rebounding after starting the game down 20-4, but for the second straight season, UNM lost to the higher seed in the first round (No. 14 Harvard last season). Kirk and guard Kendall Williams managed to score just six points combined (on one for twelve shooting), and for those who picked New Mexico to defeat Kansas in the second round, and then rampage through the field until the Elite Eight, this game was certainly a disappointment. Williams, in particular, struggles when UNM leaves the confines of the Mountain West and ventures into the tourney field: against Harvard and Stanford, Williams shot made only two of his fifteen field goals, a poor shooting display that includes missing all nine of his threes.
The offensive star of the game was Stanford sophomore Chasson Randle. The guard scored 23 points and has been on a roll from within the arc; over the last five games, including against UNM, Randle is making more than 58 percent of his twos.
Stanford will next face the winner of No. 2 Kansas versus No. 15 Eastern Kentucky, and the Jayhawks’ coaching staff — should they get past the Colonials — have a much clearer path to next weekend. The Lobos’ interior posed significant problems for Kansas, and since Joel Embiid will miss the first weekend of the tournament, the thought was that Bairstow and Kirk would take advantage of Kansas’ weakened interior.