In the first meeting between Stanford and No. 23 UCLA on January 23 the Cardinal struggled mightily in the paint. While scoring just 12 points themselves Stanford watched UCLA score 46 points in the paint on their way to a comfortable 91-74 victory. While the Wear twins were quiet, combining to score six points, Tony Parker was not as he accounted for 22 points and seven rebounds in 28 minutes of action.
The Cardinal performed far better in the rematch at Maples Pavilion, and as a result they knocked off the Bruins by the final score of 83-74. UCLA held a six-point edge in points in the paint (32-26) but Stanford managed to shoot 62% from the field and 11-for-20 from beyond the arc. And this occurred with senior forward Dwight Powell being quiet for much of the afternoon, scoring just nine points to go along with five assists and three rebounds.
With Powell limited by UCLA others needed to step up, and the triumvirate of Anthony Brown, Josh Huestis and Chasson Randle did just that. Brown, Huestis and Randle combined to score 66 points with Randle tallying 26, with 20 of those points coming in the first half. Stanford did have issues with the UCLA pressure, especially in the second half, with the Bruins converting 15 Stanford turnovers into 24 points but the gap in that stat (minus-12) wasn’t as large as it was in the first meeting (22-1 UCLA).
UCLA was limited to 44% shooting on the afternoon, and the struggles endured by Jordan Adams played a role in the outcome. After racking up 28 points (12-for-19 FG), six rebounds and five assists in UCLA’s blowout win at Cal the sophomore was limited to just eight points on 2-for-7 shooting. UCLA may have multiple scoring options on the perimeter but it’s Adams who is their most important scorer, and when he struggles it becomes tougher for the Bruins to be at their best.
Stanford was able to make things tough on Adams, and even with UCLA having four other players score in double figures this did impact their offensive efficiency. Stanford was able to execute at a higher level on both ends of the floor than they did in the first meeting, and as a result not only do they have another quality win but there’s also the chance of earning a first-round bye in next month’s Pac-12 tournament.
And looking past the Pac-12 tournament, Stanford’s taken another step towards the first NCAA tournament berth of Johnny Dawkins’ tenure.
Having lost three straight games entering Saturday’s home game against No. 1 Arizona, California had an opportunity to not only grab a resume-building victory but also right the ship ahead of the stretch run. And the Golden Bears did just that, with Justin Cobbs’ fadeaway with nine tenths of a second remaining giving Cal the 60-58 victory. On Wednesday night, with rival Stanford in Berkeley, Cal had a chance to keep the momentum rolling while temporarily moving into sole possession of second place in the Pac-12.
The Golden Bears failed to take advantage of the opportunity however, coming out lethargic against Stanford and the Cardinal were willing to grab control of the action. The end result: an 80-69 Stanford victory, with Dwight Powell (22 points, 11 rebounds and six assists) playing well defensively against a Cal front court that was coming off of an very good night against Arizona.
Chasson Randle added 19 points and Anthony Brown 16, with Josh Huestis tallying nine points, five rebounds and four steals for the visiting Cardinal. Outside of a loss at Oregon State (which beat UCLA on Sunday) Johnny Dawkins’ team doesn’t have any glaring defeats on its resume, which could set them up for a run at the first NCAA tournament berth of Dawkins’ tenure in Palo Alto.
As for Cal David Kravish finished Wednesday’s game with 12 points and six rebounds, but Richard Solomon (1-for-7 FG) accounted for just six points and nine rebounds with Powell being a big reason why. To be fair Solomon wasn’t alone in his struggles, as Bears other than Kravish, Cobbs and Wallace (57 total points) combined to shoot 4-for-20 from the field. Foul shooting was also an issue, with Cal making just 12 of its 21 attempts and being outscored by 16 points (Stanford made 28 of its’ 35 attempts) on the night.
Cal scored 34 points in the paint and grabbed 15 offensive rebounds, but the free throw disparity and the fact that Stanford was able to score 21 points off of 13 Golden Bear turnovers resulted in a fourth defeat in the last five games. The problem for much of the current stretch has been consistency, especially when it comes to shot selection. It’s February and there are still times in which players struggle with understanding the difference between being aggressive and forcing things that aren’t there.
After beating an Arizona team that will be without Brandon Ashley for the remainder of the season, Cal looked to be headed in the right direction with a chance of climbing back into the Pac-12 title race should the Wildcats slip up. But in order to do that the Golden Bears need to take care of business at home, something that didn’t happen against Stanford.
All month long, CBT will be rolling out our 2013-2014 season preview. To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here.
“Next year, there’s no reason why we can’t get to where we want to be and have the opportunity to make a run in this thing. Coach is in his sixth year. There’s a reason why he was hired to be our Stanford guy, and I have full confidence he can get us there.”
Those were the words of Stanford athletic director Bernard Muir in a story written by Jeff Faraudo of the Bay Area News Group back in March, with the Cardinals on their way to the Postseason NIT and missing out on the NCAA tournament for the fifth consecutive season. Despite having the Pac-12’s Most Improved Player in forward Dwight Powell and other key contributors such as guards Aaron Bright and Chasson Randle and forward Josh Huestis, Stanford couldn’t get over the hump. With more than 90% of the scoring and rebounding from last season’s team back on The Farm the expectations are straightforward, both within and outside of the Stanford program.
“We have high expectations,” Powell told NBC Sports. “None of the guys on the team right now have played in the Big Dance, and I think that’s the dream of everyone who’s ever picked up a basketball. That’s one of our biggest goals, to get to the tournament and play on that stage and play against that level of competition. That’s our major goal.”
The 6-foot-10 senior from Toronto will be an integral part of the rotation for the Cardinal, and he’s coming off of a busy summer that included playing for Canada in the World University Games. Playing alongside the likes of Iowa State’s Melvin Ejim and Baylor’s Brady Heslip, Powell shot 61.9% from the field and posted averages of 12.1 points and 5.1 rebounds per game as Canada finished fourth in the event. That performance came on the heels of Powell’s best season at Stanford, as he led the Cardinal in scoring (14.9 ppg) and finished second on the team in rebounding (8.4 rpg). He’ll be asked to lead the way for what should be a balanced club, and he’s got a highly dependable front court sidekick in junior Josh Huestis (10.5, 9.0).
“Their versatility is what makes them so special for us,” Stanford head coach Johnny Dawkins told NBC Sports. “We play a system in which they’re not relegated to playing one set position on the floor. With that being the case they have to be skilled; they have to be able to pass, shoot and handle the basketball some. They’re both good enough at those things to be productive in our system. They’re both long, can rebound and block shots as well.”
The backcourt will possess depth, talent and experience, with veteran returnees Bright and Randle combining for 67 of a possible 68 starts a season ago. Randle was Stanford’s second-leading scorer (13.6 ppg), and he was second on the team in assist rate (18.7%) while factoring into more than 24% of Stanford’s possessions (only Powell and Stefan Nastic rated higher in possession percentage, per kenpom.com). And Bright led the team in assists while also averaging nearly ten points per game.
The Cardinal will add freshman twins Malcolm and Marcus Allen as well as Anthony Brown (8.1 ppg, 4.0 rpg in 2011-12), who returns to the lineup after a hip injury forced him to redshirt last season. And the return of Brown is important, especially when considering the fact that Andy Brown (no relation) had to retire this past offseason after suffering yet another knee injury. While the loss of Andy shouldn’t be glossed over, as he started 19 games last season and shot 49% from the field the return of Anthony, who was a Pac-12 All-Freshman Team selection in 2010-11, will give Stanford a needed boost.
“We lose a man with a really good basketball IQ who would have given us a lot of experience and leadership, and his return was an inspirational story to our guys,” Dawkins said of Andy Brown, who suffered four knee injuries before being forced to retire. “Both Andy and Anthony are versatile players for us, and having Anthony back gives us the ability to mitigate that loss somewhat. It’s tough to lose Andy, but having Anthony come back does help.”
Another returnee of note is sophomore forward Rosco Allen, who gained some valuable experience this summer playing with Hungary’s Under-20 team in the U-20 European Championships. Currently out with a shin injury, Allen averaged 14.5 points, 9.1 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game for Hungary and earned a spot on the All-Tournament Team. A player with a great amount of talent, Allen’s still in the process of “finding out who he is as a player” according to Dawkins and he can be a major asset to the Cardinal once healthy. Overall there’s no shortage of options at each position for the Cardinal, but the question is a simple one entering 2013-14: will it all click?
Of Stanford’s nine conference losses in 2012-13 five were by five points or less, including two losses to USC by a combined three points. Games like those can come down to one or two possessions at any stage in the contest, with the ability to take care of every “minor” detail proving to be the difference between a win and a loss. That’s the area Stanford will need to address as they prepare to make a run at the program’s first NCAA tournament berth since 2008.
“I think most of those games came down to paying attention to detail,” said Powell. “Because any game you lose that’s within three, four or five points, that comes down to who wanted it more in regards to the little things. Whether it’s a loose ball or a long rebound that wasn’t chased down.
“Our focus has definitely been to just keep a strong attention to detail and reinforce that in practice, to make sure we’re maintaining a high standard of excellence and always focusing on each individual play,” continued Powell. “Because ultimately if it comes down to two points, it could have been an offensive rebound from the first half that ended up giving momentum to the other team that puts you in that situation.”
Turn around a few of those close losses and Stanford may have been able to earn a trip to the NCAA tournament last season, but that wasn’t the case in the end. The talent and experience are certainly there for Stanford to make a return to the NCAA tournament, and the expectations are present as well. How Stanford manages them will ultimately decide the program’s fate.